He had a voice like music, its inflections glistening like sunlight off a body of water, its sheer sound a pleasure, entirely apart from whatever he might be saying—in memory the singer unites with the song. And that is as it should be: for R. W. B. Lewis (1917–2002), the very foundation of civilized life was the interchange between human beings; as he postulated in his first book, The American Adam, culture itself can be envisioned as the conversation a society conducts with itself. He once wrote, “My own experience is that the greatest teachers I have known”—his list includes Francis Fergusson, F. O. Matthiessen, and Mark Van Doren—“reveal their capacities even more in conversation than in the classroom.” So it was with Dick. In a seminar room, at the dinner table, over the telephone, his gift for talk was so subtle that one might not be aware of how nourishing it was. “I always wanted to be a...

 
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