Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Polished Philistinism

Margaret Soltan linked to this beautiful autobiographical prose by Walter Kirn about a working-class kid attending a prestigious university with the peerage. It also, from first-hand, makes a point I've made here recently about the relative pointlessness of teaching "theory" before teaching the western tradition that it developed out of.
"The need to finesse my ignorance through such stunts left me feeling hollow and vaguely hunted. I sought solace in the company of other frauds (we seemed to recognize one another instantly), and together we refined our acts. We toted around books by Jacques Derrida, and spoke of "playfulness" and "textuality." We laughed at the notion of "authorial intention" and concluded, before reading even a hundredth of it, that the Western canon was illegitimate, an expression of powerful group interests that it was our sacred duty to transcend—or, failing that, to systematically subvert. In this rush to adopt the latest attitudes and please the younger and hipper of our instructors—the ones who drank with us in the Nassau Street bars and played the Clash on the tape decks of their Toyotas as their hands crept up pants and skirts—we skipped straight from ignorance to revisionism, deconstructing a body of literary knowledge that we'd never constructed in the first place."

Anyway, it's great stuff. And don't worry: it has a happy ending!

4 comments:

narrator said...

Damn, he wrote that well. My favorite SAT story: the friend, forced by his parents to take the test, who filled in the little answer sheet ovals so that they spelled out "Fuck You."

Of course he went to college anyway, the then "Hampshire-like" New College, then he tried lots of other places.

Somehow he is now a high school teacher, in a rich Connecticut private school, prepping the next group of Princeton and Yale undergrads.

Rufus said...

I'm seriously considering teaching at a private school after I finish the PhD. It just seems like less of a Ponzi scheme than higher ed.

narrator said...

At least they are somewhat honest about their purpose...

rufus said...

Well, there are still a few universities that have worthy goals. But, most of them seem to have no idea just what they are anymore.