FORMER PROFESSOR VENTURES OUT AND SEEKS HIS POSSIBILITIES

By Shawn Clubb
South City Journal
April 26, 2006

Bob Corbett walks through Forest Park with a companion and talks about philosophy, history, voodoo, neighborhoods, language, nature and family.

He enjoys conversation, but "walking time is good thinking time" and that's where he likes to be walking and thinking about what's to come out in front of himself.

The idea "to be out there in the world ahead of ourselves" comes from the existential philosopher Martin Heidegger a favorite of Corbett's.

Corbett, 67, of Dogtown, is retired. He has a master's degree in philosophy from Washington University. He taught philosophy, and courses on Haitian art and voodoo at Webster University

Heidegger, he said, saw humans as "Dasein," "beings with a there," that have unlimited possibilities and for whom it is healthy to be wondering what might be.

Corbett has realized a lot of his possibilities. He studied history and voodoo in Haiti to try to learn the root cause of that nation's poverty. He taught courses about Viennese coffee house culture in Vienna, where he was called Herr Professor. He moved in 1993 back to Dogtown, where people knew him as "Bobby Corbett's little boy, the professor."

He speaks German and Haitian Creole, operates an e-mail list about Dogtown and its history, writes book reviews, loves wine and soccer, and two out of every three days walks at least four miles.

But he is still concerned with possibilities.

For example, the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood intrigues him. He said a group of people have moved there, come together and decided to be a neighborhood, despite the challenges still facing many blocks, including a problem with drug dealers.

"There are still a lot of buildings that look like World War III," he said.

Corbett frequents the neighborhood on some of his walks. He likes to stop at La Dolce Via, a coffee shop and bakery at the corner of Taylor and Arco avenues.

"I hear conversations and I realize this is not your typical coffee shop. They talk about local politics and national politics. There have been murders and they're offended by it," he said.

He paused while sipping on his coffee at an outside table. "I think it'll make it," he said of the re-emerging neighborhood.

Other walks take him through the Kennedy Woods in Forest Park, past the Saint Louis Art Museum, over the Grand Basin, past the Boathouse and The Muny to the Missouri History Museum.

There he conducts research for a Web site that includes Dogtown's history.

The Web site, www.corbettland.com, also contains hundreds of book reviews, information on Haiti and on existentialism.

Corbett hasn't owned a car since the early 1970s. He sold his last car to pay his way to Austria.

He promotes economic simplicity as a way of life.

"The less money you need to live, the more options you can choose from of how to live," he said.

Corbett resigned as a full-time professor in 1989 and then taught half a course load for 11 years. He now takes long vacations a couple of times each year. He traveled last year to Costa Rica.

This year, he is planning a visit to Greece and Turkey and a month-long bike ride on the Katy Trail through Missouri wine country.

"I find the more I'm out there creating a future of my own, illness and death won't have time to catch up," he said, then laughed and kept walking.


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