In Loco Doctorem

Professors have weird obsessions that make everybody’s life harder and turn them into a whiny, slobbering mess. I sporadically browse professor FB groups, and the whining is insane.

Like due dates. The obsession with due dates is quite ridiculous, especially since most academics never hand in their articles on time and do everything 5 weeks late.

I’m completely relaxed about due dates. Can’t hand it in on the due date? Then bring it next week. Or next month. As long as I get it before the end of the semester, I’m good. As a result of this laid back approach, I almost never get situations when people hand in anything late. I respect students, and students respect me.

During exams, I approach every student and point out mistakes en cours. If I see that somebody is completely lost, I say, “hey, take it home, finish it in peace. Take as long as you need. Ask the tutor to help. Come to my office and we’ll do it together.” (We provide free tutors.) Why not? The goal is to learn, not get punished. In all the years I’ve been teaching, nobody abused my trust.

I don’t mind getting emails at night or over the weekend either. What’s the big deal, seriously? If people need help, I’m there to provide it. It’s worse when they don’t reach out.

And what’s with the stupid obsession with not putting your PowerPoints online? I put all of mine online. They are incomprehensible without my lecture anyway because I mostly use images to supplement the narrative. I even give tests where all students have to do is identify images and explain what they mean.

I also don’t ban cellphones in the classroom. If my lecture is so boring that people want to browse Instagram instead, it’s only fair that they should do so. In any case, I’m not their mommy. They are adults and can decide what’s in their best interest.

I ask students what format they want the test to be. Short questions? Long questions? Chronological exercise? Fill-in-the-blanks? I ask, “should we practice writing or speaking? An essay or an oral exam?” They tend to make the best choices, too.

I have so much going on in research and administration that I have zero interest in policing students or being their mommy. And it works out great because when you remove this unnecessary antagonism and bickering over cell phones or due dates, everybody has more energy to dedicate to the actual work.

I hate the philosophy of “in loco parentis.” I’m only acting as parent to my kid. Everybody else should go find their own parente.

“We should teach them values!” Oh, unclench. These are adults. Their raising has already been done.

Movie Notes: The African Queen (1951)

OK, I promise to lay off the movies for a while after this one. I discovered the pastime of movie-watching rather late in life and now I’m finding it hard to tamper down my enthusiasm.

The African Queen was directed by John Huston. It stars Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

I had heard of Hepburn and Bogart before but never seen them. I thought they were both supposed to be beautiful, like true Hollywood stars. However, they are actually quite ugly, especially Bogart. And old. Hepburn undergoes a Betty-la-fea transformation in the movie and becomes beautiful by the end. Unlike today’s makeovers, hers isn’t achieved with makeup and clothes. The movie is set in Central Africa during WWI, and both stars look sweaty and grimy the whole time. It’s only through acting that Hepburn transmits the transformation of going from being a dried-up spinster to a happy woman who has reclaimed her sexuality.

Hepburn and Bogart are both excellent actors. Unfortunately, Bogart couldn’t do a Cockney accent, so from a Cockney boatman – which would have made so much sense in the movie – he was turned into a Canadian.

I’ve been thinking about why I like these old movies so much and now I realize it’s because they aren’t hectoring me. Today’s movies remind me of what Hepburn’s character is at the beginning of the film: preachy, humorless, ridiculous, and barren. Even Frozen 2, whose biggest audience is aged 3, reads like a syllabus in a course titled “The Evils of Whiteness and Colonialism” at some rich-kid college.

In The African Queen there are some cartoonishly evil Germans but that’s the extent of the movie’s political message. Very good movie. I’m glad I found it.

Movie Notes: A Place in the Sun (1951)

The director is George Stevens. The lead parts are by Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.

OK, I didn’t like this one at all and didn’t finish it. It’s really bad. The only good thing about this movie is that Elizabeth Taylor is gorgeous. Especially when she stands completely still and days nothing.

The movie is based on Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, which as everybody here knows I consider to be the great American novel. Dreiser’s book isn’t impossible to bring to the screen. There was a very nice Soviet movie based on it. But the script writers for A Place in the Sun completely botched it. Nothing makes sense. People behave in weird ways for no reason.

And it’s poorly filmed. In the scene where “Alice” (Roberta in the original) tells “George” (Clyde) that she’s pregnant, she’s filmed from the back and we never see her face. The actors all behave like they are from Finland in terms of their extremely subdued affect. They are tortured by flights of sexual fancy but nothing else.

Sexuality is portrayed in a very bizarre way. A very rich and beautiful girl suddenly gets so overcome with desire for some obscure guy she once saw in passing that she hunts him down and practically jumps on him in public. I can see a mature woman in her thirties today doing that, and it’s still a rare woman. But in 1951?

This Montgomery Clift fellow is such a bad actor that even the talentless Taylor looks like an acting genius by his side. But she’s beautiful and has amazing outfits. That’s the only nice thing about the movie. Montgomery Clift would be great for movies about the Italian mafia in New York. But I’m guessing it wasn’t a thing in 1951, right?

I really wanted to finish it because I read that later in the movie an actress appears who was a descendant of Paul Revere. But even that wasn’t enough to entice me to keep watching.

Book Notes: Jane Eyre

So. Jane Eyre. What a masterpiece. I have no idea how it was possible to write something like this without Microsoft Word. You’ve got to be able to go back and forth to make everything connected like Brontë did. Amazing talent.

Now, who’s with me in that Mrs Rochester wasn’t crazy? Nothing she does qualifies as crazy. She never harms anybody who didn’t harm her. She tries to kill the husband who locked her up and the brother who let it happen but she never does anything to Adele, Sophie, or Mrs Fairfax. When she comes into Jane’s bedroom, does she try to hurt her in any way? Nope. She breaks the wedding veil, sending a clear message about what she thinks of marriage. If she were such a raving lunatic as we are supposed to believe, how would she control her craziness so well around Jane? How come she didn’t trash the room or break anything other than the very meaningful veil?

Rochester said himself that Bertha had stretches of lucidity that lasted for weeks. Imagine being completely normal and lucid and being shut up in a small room with no company and nothing to do. Imagine not being completely normal and being locked up. For 10 years! This is torture. Even a true schizophrenic doesn’t deserve never to be outside or to get a breath of fresh air. Only a very robust psyche could bear all that and still make the moral distinction between the people deserving her rage and people who were innocent. If a guy did that to you, wouldn’t you try to shred him to pieces every time you saw him? She’d be insane if she had no rage against her husband.

The only reason to think that Mrs Rochester is crazy is that she looks insane. But how would you look after being locked in a small room without ever being outside for a decade?

Mr Rochester’s story can be disregarded completely because the guy spends the whole novel running hoaxes on people. He’s pathologically dishonest and lies even when it’s utterly unnecessary.

The novel is so good that it gave rise to the only good prequel I have ever encountered, Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Her Bertha Mason does, indeed, go crazy but it’s a worthwhile novel.

Movie Notes: Ida Lupino’s The Bigamist

In the pursuit of my goal to alleviate the burden of my cinematographic cretinism, I bought a book titled 1,001 Movies to See Before You Die. I opened it at random, and found a movie called The Bigamist from 1953. It starts Edmond O’Brien, Ida Lupino, Joan Fontaine, and Edmund Gwenn. I have no idea who these people are but they are very good actors. The plot is very simple, and there isn’t much to the movie but the acting, which I like. I vastly prefer movies that are held together by the acting. What I don’t get is why everybody speaks with a vaguely British accent.

The main character of the movie is a traveling salesman. Apparently, they made great salaries, $180,000 in today’s money. But it was a sad, lonely, peripatetic life. So the salesman cheated on his chic executive wife with a working class girl and tried to fix the whole situation by marrying her. But everybody was a very good, decent person. There’s no happy ending and no easy answers. Where did that movie industry of talented people doing good work even go?

One movie down, a thousand more to go!

Bunny Rabbit’s Picnic Worldview

This is a really great old parenting book. A ton of stuff in it is mega dated but I found my parenting motto in it, and it’s expressed better than I ever could:

We want our young daughters to have a Bunny Rabbit’s Picnic view of the world.

That’s my whole parenting goal right there. I’ve never seen this Bunny Rabbit’s Picnic but I know exactly what these authors mean.

Helen Burns

So are there any Jane Eyre fans on the blog? How do you feel about Helen Burns? She’s Jane’s friend at school. The Jesusy girl who dies of consumption.

Everybody at the book club loved her but I always hated this character. I don’t think that masochism is cute and I see no value in forgiveness that’s given from the position of weakness. If somebody is pummeling you while you are lying on the ground and you are yelping, “I forgive you! I forgive you!,” it’s pathetic because it’s not like you have an option not to in any meaningful way.

When does the spirit of Christian forgiveness become a screen for excusing your passivity and fearfulness?

Book Notes: August Wilson’s Fences

Turns out this post failed to publish for some reason. Sorry for the confusion!

Fences is supposed to be Wilson’s most famous play. Or at least the most taught one. But I didn’t like it.

Compared to The Piano Lesson and Ma Rainey, Fences is a lot less about black experience in America and a lot more universal, for lack of a better word. The subject of male menopause has been done to absolute death. A man in his fifties cheats on his wife with a young girl. He is intimidated by an adolescent son and fights him for the role of the man of the house. We have only heard this story five million times.

The writing is clunky. There are long boring monologues. The ending is pompous and fake. It was all bad, especially in comparison to the brilliant stuff by this writer that I reviewed on this blog earlier. To me, Wilson is at his best when he writes about black history and not when he does a version of the supremely inane American Beauty. (I know Fences precedes American Beauty but it’s still an outdated, boring plot).

I’m going to watch the movie with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Maybe that’s going to be better. Anything will be better than the play itself.

This is the second book I read this year, and both suck. I’m superstitious about my reading, and this doesn’t bode well.

Comrade Galsworthy

Our university library is very Soviet in its literary tastes. It’s got nothing. There’s one old copy of Jane Eyre. One!

But there are four shelves of John Galsworthy:

For those who don’t know, the English literature ended for the Soviet people with Galsworthy’s work. Nothing happened after him but he was HUGE. It was a big surprise for me that nobody in the English-speaking world knows of him. The Soviet people of my generation and before, though, know his novels by heart. On our first date, N and I debated Galsworthy. I can still quote whole passages.