Harvard University English and American Literature Prof. Elaine Scarry spoke at Saturday's Phi Beta Kappa initiation ceremony about how beauty can inspire individuals "to repair the injuries of the world" and argued-with an audience member's interruption-that nuclear proliferation is a "destroyer of beauty."There were mixed reactions about Scarry's speech from this year's 71 seniors and nine juniors inducted into the national academic society and from their family members in attendance.

The 49th ceremony, which took place on the Spingold Theater Center Mainstage also featured a change in leadership between Phi Beta Kappa officers and the presence of University President Frederick Lawrence, a member of the academic society himself, who spoke at the event.

In total, the speech lasted for 58 minutes; though according to outgoing chapter President Prof. Andreas Teuber (PHIL), the guideline the organization had given Scarry was 20 to 30 minutes.

Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard, discussed what she referred to as the innate destructive nature of nuclear weapons and explained how the U.S. practices "readiness" with their possession of such forces.

Scarry said that even though the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 mandates that countries limit their possession of nuclear weapons, there has been tension between countries over the total obliteration of the weapons.

For example, over 78 countries have filed legal complaints in the International Court over the U.S.'s possession of nuclear weapons, Scarry said.

According to Scarry, the current United States stance on nuclear weapons is that owning, threatening to use and using nuclear weapons is not illegal.

When Scarry used literary examples to bolster her argument that nuclear weapons are an excessively violent measure, Joseph Burg, a relative of one of the inductees, interrupted the remarks, saying, "Beautiful books were burned in Germany before the atomic bomb."

In a later e-mail interview to the Justice, Burg wrote, "I stopped her to say that beautiful books and people were burned in World War II before the atomic bomb was even invented. . Just because we concentrate on beauty does not keep our enemies from trying to kill us."

In a departure from her prepared remarks, Scarry responded, "There's no way that what happened in Germany can excuse our current arsenal."

In a phone interview with the Justice, Scarry said, "I don't look on [nuclear proliferation] as a politicized topic; I look on it as a deeply intellectual topic completely commensurate with the intellectual aspirations of people who have just been elected to Phi Beta Kappa."

Scarry also said that she has never had somebody try to interrupt her in the middle of a lecture.

"I understand, of course, that it's a challenging subject, and I understand why people would either rather not think about it or think that we're safe by having such weapons or other countries are safe, . but I think that's a deeply mistaken idea," she said.

Phi Beta Kappa inductee Liza Behrendt '11 said after the event, "I was really glad that her talk was not a generic 'go forth and pursue knowledge' [speech], but it was an opportunity for us to use the critical thinking skills we've developed in college to think about her argument and the various philosophical and political implications of it."

Following the ceremony, Matthew Kriegsman '11, another inductee, said in an interview with the Justice, "What I thought was inappropriate and what I guess most of the people agreed with was that the context of her talking about a political issue . was inappropriate at a Phi Beta Kappa ceremony."

Kriegsman continued that the speech was delivered with very little context and focused minimally on the graduates.

Though there were objections to the speech, Scarry said that students approached her after the event with "good feedback."

Robin Debacker, mother of new inductee Emilie Schuler '11 said at the reception following the event, "I love [her] point about beauty making you become less self-centered, and in the presence of beauty you feel marginalized ... but very happy to be there."

In a statement made to the Justice at the reception following the event, the respective outgoing and incoming Phi Beta Kappa Presidents Teuber and Prof. Kathryn Graddy (ECON) said, of the fact that audience members were upset by the speech, "We both think that it was very unfortunate and we did not know what she was going to say." They both noted that they were speaking as individuals and not on behalf of the larger organization.

Later on, Teuber and Graddy released an official written statement to the Justice that confirmed that they did not know the content of Scarry's speech in advance.

The statement added, "The Officers of the Brandeis Chapter sincerely wish that no matter what anyone in attendance may think or feel about the views expressed by any one of its speakers. . These views, thoughts and feelings do not take away, not one jot, from the astonishing accomplishment each and every one of the students elected to Phi Beta Kappa has achieved."

The speakers are chosen "on the basis that they are likely to have something to say and be able to say it well," according to the statement released by Teuber.

"The point of the ceremony is to celebrate and honor the new members. This is also the point of the address, to celebrate their accomplishment by engaging them at an intellectual level to which they are accustomed, to provoke thought, spark debate and encourage them to continue to apply their skills to every problem they encounter once they graduate," he added in the statement.

In an individual statement, that did not reflect the chapter's views, Teuber wrote, "As outgoing President of the Brandeis Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa I am not happy and very sorry if anyone was offended by Elaine Scarry's remarks."

The Brandeis Mu chapter is the youngest chapter in the national Phi Beta Kappa organization and began in 1962, according to a history given at the event from chapter Vice President Prof. F. Trenery Dolbear, Jr. (ECON).

This year, Teuber, who has served as president of the Brandeis chapter for about 10 years, will be leaving the position along with Dolbear, said Teuber. They will be succeeded by Graddy as chapter president and Prof. Angela Gutchess (PSYC) as vice president.

-Fiona Lockyer contributed reporting.