Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot: Not Quite a Review

I’m reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s new novel The Marriage Plot. I’m not a fan of this writer’s work but this novel is surprisingly good. It is the kind of light, highly entertaining reading that gives you endless pleasure when your brain is on the fritz from reading serious literature. I have a lot to say about the novel and will write a more detailed review after I finish it.

For now, however, I wanted to share that books like this one are to blame for me having such a lousy time in grad school. The characters in the novel are students at Brown who live and breathe literature, philosophy, and literary criticism. I was completely sure that once I arrived at my fancy grad school I would encounter these people I used to read about who walk around quoting Judith Butler and Derrida, arguing about whose reading of Cervantes makes the most sense, and sharing the amazing fogotten writers of the XIXth century they just found at the library.

The Marriage Plot is set in the early 1980ies, which was the high moment of literary criticism and feminist theory in North America. The characters are discovering deconstruction, semiotics, Lacan, Kristeva, Gilbert and Gubar, Derrida. The protagonist of the novel has her entire life transformed by the reading of Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse at the age of 20.

Of course, a naive youngish creature like myself read these descriptions of Ivy grad school life for years and became convinced that they were more than a figment of the writers’ imagination. So I set out on a very quixotic (in the literal sense of the word) quest to find this magical world of books in real life. Discovering how things really are was a huge letdown.

Writers have a lot to answer for.

Facebook Groups

And this is why I never will join Facebook and will do everything I can to prevent people at work from pushing me into it:

Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues have set things up so that anyone on Facebook can create a “group,” and can sign you up to the group without asking your permission. You then get the discussions at the group by email, and if you want to opt out, you have to go to the group page and ask to be removed or adjust the settings so that you don’t get email from it.

Juan Cole is right, this is ridiculous. Anybody can just sign you into any group of their choice without asking your permission, and then you’ll have to make efforts to unsubscribe and offer explanations as to why you don’t want to be included.

I understand that Facebook is a useful resource that many people like and use all the time. However, I find it appalling that so many efforts are being made, both inside and outside of Facebook, to make sure that people join.

Getting the Jerks to Like You, Cont’d

This is precisely the kind of attitude to rude offensive jerks that I will never understand:

The other day, I had to gather my social skills (such as they are), brush my hair, and put on my most stylish socks to attend a socioprofessional event that required me to be super-nice to everyone I met there. As I was claiming my name tag from a table near the entrance, I asked the table-attendant what the “1” on my name tag signified; the other name tags that I could see did not have any numbers. The answer to that particular question is not important to my story. But this is relevant: when I asked my question, a 70-something man standing nearby said “It means this”, and he made an obscene gesture.

I thought to myself, “This is a test.” And I was determined to pass that test. I decided to practice being super-nice to him. I figured: if I can be nice to him, then I can be nice to almost anyone.

Does anybody want to venture a guess what was the result of this experiment in trying to be nice and understanding to an idiot?

Right you are, it was not very inspiring, to put it mildly:

I asked him another question about himself and his interests (I will not give myself points for these because they were rather routine), and then he said, “All you professors only care about yourselves and other professors.”

To me, that’s even ruder than the obscene gesture, but I was not willing to give up. I was determined to continue to withstand the onslaught of aggressively jerkish behavior. So I said “That’s not true. Many of us care about our students.”

His reply: “So what? Same thing. You only care about students because you want them to be professors one day so that is just like only caring about professors.”

After which, the super-nice professor congratulated herself silently with a victory and left. Yes, that was a resounding win for the good guys. The jerk will surely remember that lesson for a long time to come and will spread his discovery to all of the losers in his circle: you can insult female scientists as much as you want and they will just smile and be kind and patient to you in response.

What a huge achievement for feminism! We have now demonstrated that no matter which heights a woman reaches professionally and intellectually, any random idiot can insult her and she will meekly stick around to provide further opportunities for the jerk to offend her. Yippee!

More on the Unfair Persecution of Elizabeth Snyder

Please note that even Inside Higher Ed gives the following title to the story about Elizabeth’s Snyder’s unfair persecution: “Instructor of Stuttering Student Defends Conduct.”

In spite of Elizabeth Snyder’s explanations, the resource that is supposed to give a voice to educators still upholds the original accusation that the student unfairly leveled at her. He is still identified as a “stuttering student”, which shows that the authors of the article believe the student’s assertion that his stutter got him discriminated against rather than the teacher’s explanation that he was not called on for completely different reasons.

It is also quite interesting that an award-winning educator with decades of teaching experience has been reduced in this title to being “instructor of stuttering student.” As if her entire identity should be reduced to the misfortune of having this rude kid in her classroom.

Now let’s look at the second part of the article’s title. Elizabeth Snyder “defends conduct.” I find the word “conduct” to be offensive in this context. The instructor is not a wayward child who misbehaved. There is no “conduct” that needs defending in this situation. She made a professional decision that is now questioned by a bunch of teacher-hating ignoramuses. Sadly, Inside Higher Ed apparently supports this teacher-bashing.

Today in class, I had to shut down a discussion because we were running out of time and there was a lot of new material to cover. I usually encourage discussion as much as possible but it is simply not feasible to allow students to speak as much as they would sometimes like to do. I can only imagine what would happen if people tried to analyze this decision of mine vindictively.

How can one be expected to work at all if everything you do gets examined by people who were not even in your classroom and who are predisposed to see a teacher as an enemy of humanity irrespective of what s/he does?