I heard via the email grapevine that Louis Mackey has died. As far as I
know now, he died after a long and grave illness on Wednesday, March 24,
2004 in Austin, TX. He was, I believe, 78 or 79 (b., 1926). Louis was
one of my graduate professors of philosophy at the University of Texas
at Austin (I was there 1990-1997). Mackey was the chair of graduate
admissions when I got in to UT so he may be the reason I am in
In addition to taking Louis' 12th Century graduate seminar, I was his
teaching assistant for both Knowledge and Reality and Introduction to
Philosophy. I sat in on his American Philosophy: Puritans to
Transcendentalists and his Medieval Philosophy courses, too.
I guess I knew Louis the way a lot of graduate students did; I
considered him a friend but I did not know much about his personal life.
I still don't. But we shared a sense of humor which is based on the
sense that life is manifoldly and manifestly ridiculous, obscene, and
sacred all at the same time. Often one could find Louis in the David L.
Miller conference room, our lounge, eating lunch at 12 every day. He'd
hold court there, quietly and without ceremony, telling dirty jokes or
bantering about literature to whoever was at the table. He somehow
managed to be both acerbic and approachable.
Louis was by far the most popular professor at UT while I was there.
Everyone wanted him on their committee and until his later years he
seemed to always say yes. He had "groupies" from all over the
campus--art history, english, comp lit graduate students would sign up
for his seminars and it was virtually guaranteed that there'd barely be
a seat open by the end.
Louis Mackey was one of the most brilliant and creative minds I have
ever met. Exceptionally well read, Louis had a take on the history of
philosophy, the history of religion, and, it seemed, all of literature.
Everything he absorbed became part of his vision, and he made that
vision sparkle for us. It was a lens we could try to peer through to get
a better perspective on the puzzle of existence. Louis never promoted or
proselytized this vision; rather, it pulled you along after it, like a
comet, and made you want to find out what it would be like to tag along,
to go where it was going.
And now the Comet Mackey has passed. What
a loss this is for all of us. What a great subtraction from the cosmic
mix. There will never be another. How thankful I am to have known Louis