Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Professorial Smackdown

This blog post is dedicated to the Masters lit students at UiB, who have just discovered my blog

Scene—early afternoon. A seminar room at UiB filled with Masters literature students and the UiB lit profs. A student has just finished presenting the beginning of her thesis, and another student has offered criticism. Below is the inner monologue that played in my head during the class:

Wow. She’s so extremely diplomatic. What an amazing gift. How nicely she phrases her criticism. Okay, now she’s beginning to sound diffident. Come on, girl! Don’t be cowed by the other woman’s age, you’ve got heaps more brains. I wish that woman would just sit quiet and take it. Otherwise this is going to be more like a ping-pong match than an academic discussion. Now, is anyone going to say the much-needed and obvious fact: that this thesis lacks any idea of its own? Oh, good, you can always trust Randi to articulate the unpleasant. It’s her professorial prerogative. Walt Whitman as eco-poet... or not. If you stretch his "I contain multitudes" that far, lady, you'll be left with "Walt Whitman: Poet." Gosh, Jakob may have just saved her thesis with that idea. I wonder if she’ll be smart enough to take it. Oh Jesus, no, why is the American prof speaking? Maybe if I just duck my head down like this I can pretend I’m in a different room. Or country. Why does he always start out with, “If I were writing this…” Dude, why must everything be twisted around until it reflects you? He’s Charles Tansley from To The Lighthouse, only neither marriage nor tenure can cure him. [American Prof: If I were writing this, and I know I’m coming from a different cultural background, I’m an American—] No, don’t say that! Don’t bring attention to it! You want her to read Milton? What part of her-thesis-already-lacks-a-focus did you not understand? Okay, yes, good, mention that book. And that one. I know, we all know, you’ve read everything. I hate academics—Jesus! Did you just tell her to learn French? Oh, shit. Oh, shit, did I just moan “oh, shit” out loud? Oh good, the British professor’s jumping in. He should clear things up for her. Thank you, yes, she doesn’t have to learn French. And needn’t read Milton. NO! American prof, DO NOT respond! You are at a decided disadvantage here. Oh my gosh, this is horrible. They sound so polite and so irate. WASPs in a scuffle. My left hand neighbor wrote, “clash of the Titans” on a paper and passed it to me. More like clash of the lanky grizzled pedants who both need haircuts. What utter agony it is not to burst out laughing right now. The student to my right is chuckling. He has written “intellectual mud fight” on his computer and angled it at me. How on earth do people find academia boring?

*There is a prequel to this scene, from last night’s professors’ dinner at which my limbo half-student half-teacher status gave me the privilege of presence so that I could once more imagine bashing my head against the table. I’ll share it in a later post when I have more time to do it justice.
** My dad is going to want me to take this post down in case the prof sees it and I get in trouble, but Abba, do you really think that a guy like that is going to spend time surfing the blogosphere?


  1. You often make me laugh, but this time in despair. A petty guy like that pro is very much occupied what people say and think about him.
    I bet he googles his own name ten times a day and vacuums the blogosphere.
    Uglier things has been known to happen before on the campus of UiB.
    You'll do well listening to your father's advice.
    Reality sucks.

  2. "WASPs in a scuffle."

    White Anglo-Saxon *Professors* - a class of their own.

    You know, it's funny how alike we all think. While the person on your left wrote "clash of the Titans" and the one on your right wrote "intellectual mud fight", I probably around the same time wrote something like "academic battle of wits much?" to my left-hand neighbour.

    I'm not too worried on your behalf about the American professor stumbling over this blog (literarily what he would have to do), as one: he is not mentioned by name, and two: not particularly computer-savvy to begin with.

  3. Hi.

    I just discovered your blog.

    No, I knew about it before this incident that you write about..I was kinda hoping it would end up on your blog. Hilarious.

    To be honest: I gave up on her project and offering her criticism before I even started, and I can tell you why when we meet again.

    I am absolutely impressed with your writing here. (Ugh, I feel like I'll be your next Jonas :P)

  4. Felisol, I think Jonas is right here-- the guy really is not tech-savvy. He hasn't managed to get his own email working well since he arrived.

    Jonas --White Anglo-Saxon Professors-- love it!

    Amrita- hehe, I know we were all thinking it, I had to write it up. It's so fun to get comments from you and Jonas and Felisol-- I feel like there's a dialogue between Norway and the US here. Fun!

  5. Hehe I love how everyone chose to share their side comments with you. :-)