"Sometimes I think that knowledge - when it's knowledge for knowledge's sake, anyway - is the worst of all." - Salinger, Franny and Zooey
I wake up unusually refreshed but still lost in the half-sleep haze. I was so damn fatigued last night that I forgot to set my alarm. It’s 11:47am right now. This just about guarantees that I’ll be late for Dialectical Investigations, which begins at noon.
Dialectical Investigations is my first class on Friday. I spent hours upon hours devising a schedule that would ensure that I wouldn’t have any morning Friday classes.
I did it because I was deeply envious of all of the kids that were free to booze on Thursday nights. Free to do whatever they pleased. Free to have a pleasant, luxuriating transition to the weekend.
I thought it would be worth it at the time. And it sort of was. It’s nice to able to sleep into late Friday morning. It's nice to occasionally go out on Thursday.
But little did I know last spring that I’d be working at Jamba Juice on Thursday nights. And little did I know about how much friggin’ work I’d have to do for Dialectical.
The mere quantity of work isn’t remarkable. It’s insurmountable for sure, but so is every class. The remarkable thing about Dialectical is that you actually have to do the work.
Professor will randomly call on people every class. He doesn’t do it a lot though. Maybe one or two people a class. But it’s enough to keep you on your toes. And he won’t relent. He’ll interrogate you until your sense of shame is unmistakably clear to everyone in the class.
I fear these interrogations for every class, even when I’ve done the reading. On days like this, when I’ve done none of it, I’m usually terrified. But this morning, for some reason, I’m pretty calm.
This morning the only thing I’m worried about is getting there on time. I brush my teeth and splash water on my face hastily. I toss the assigned reading and my notebook in my backpack, find some folded clothes in my drawers, put ‘em on, and get rolling.
I walk swiftly through Middle Campus, blowing by a herd of hambones and hooknasties that are as pure and refined as the lawns of the suburban homes they were raised in. The Campus Fountain is to my left and it’s looking immaculate as always. But I have no time to appreciate it. It’s 12:03pm, approaching a time when I’ll actually be embarrassed to be late.
I begin to move with deep urgency now, rhythmically strutting forward, somewhere in between speed-walking and a jog. The imposing, opulent façade of Gardner Hall is dead in front of me. It’s beautiful but it doesn’t really look like a university building. With it’s semi-wooden exterior and enveloping veranda it looks more like a rustic, antebellum mansion. I often imagine old, genteel men smoking cigars on the building’s front porch and that image hits my mind as I meet the front steps.
I plow through the steel, Coats of Arms-adorned doors and ascend a maze of staircases. I have reached Room 204, my destination. I take a seat in the back and check my watch. I am seven minutes late. No one seems to notice, however. All eyes are on Professor Gladstone; all minds are lost in the polysyllabic thunderstorm.
“…existence and achievement are the phenemological features of Kierkegaardian existentialism, according to the post-structuralism school. Kierkegaard, however, was a proto-existentialist, not a true existentialist, like Sartre or De Beauvoir. Nonetheless his ontological scrutiny influenced many. This is a digression, however. You see…”
Wordy, unfocused, digressive. Professor seems to be on top of his game. According to the syllabus today’s topic is Marxism in the Postmodern Age. And I sit there and listen and concentrate for a few mintues. But already a quarter of the way through the class neither Marxism nor postmodernism, as far as I can tell, have been discussed.
“…quantitative measures of radicalism can never been attained because the appropriate methodology that can feasibly enumerate the vast panorama of thoughts are too amorphous to be tangibly identified. Spinoza presciently understood this many years back as did Husserl, the grandfather of what is now known as phenomology. Husserl, however, like any good systemic thinker…”
Professor blabs on and on about metaphysics and meta-narratives and metanoids and I feel meta-fantastic right now. The guy is way too lost in his own pedagogy to be concerned about us and that means the chances of him calling on me, or anyone, are highly unlikely.
“…although Foucalt’s understanding of meta-narratives sharply diverges from the Derridian emphasis of subtextual relationships. When I heard Foucalt speak many years ago I was swayed by his criticism of the Enlightenment emphasis of an exaggerated valuation on reason. Reason, in a metaphysical sense at least, can never be fully understood nor can we truly conceive of it. This is because it’s metaphysical properties…”
I wish I knew what meta- means. Like, “very” or “uber”? That’s my guess, but I think it means that in a much deeper sense. A sense that can’t be explained.
“…the crass dialectic of man and industrial efficacy furthermore relegates the proletariat and the disadvantaged masses to sub-human environment, mere slaves to the conditions that their masters have imposed on them. This diminution of their personal self-worth and essence – what many postmodern scholars have called ‘Being’ – subsequently reduces their independent, cognitive ability, and thereby chance of rebellion within…”
We have hit today’s theme, it appears. I begin to stare at Professor intently. He’s a sharp dresser and he looks good today. Louis Vutton beret, Gucci jacket, a dashing scarf. The Revolution Will Not Be Dressed in Dockers.
“…an orgiastic expression of proleterian rage is impossible due to the cultural paradigm that is cultivated by the master class. And when the system becomes inescapable, and the system is the only institution one is familiar with, all impressionable individuals unknowingly capitulate to the free-market zealotry that is so ubiquitous in contemporary culture. When all you see are avaricious plutocrats, when all you feel is the masochistic impulse of self-indulgence, when all you hear is the self-righteous propaganda of the bourgeoisie…”
I begin to seriously space out. Professor’s verbiage has catalyzed memories of last weekend and my own philosophical rager. I was at a post-party at my friend Brian Adams’ place. I got into an argument about some dude who I recognized from my Philosophy gen ed class last year. I was pretty drunk and really in the groove. Being a goofball, the life of the party. But then I recognized this guy and started going on about class. He mentioned something about existentialism; he may have just mentioned the word. I don’t know. But then I just went off.
I felt embarrassed the next morning, hoping I wouldn’t run into him. I didn’t and haven’t so far. I guess I forgot what he looks like.
“…because we are incapable of distinguishing between the subordinating, master values and the so-called ‘terroristic,’ Fanonian virtues we are led to understand that a conflation of these values is permissible. And because this conflation occurs it is inevitable and understandable that the reflexive totalitarianism of certain groups can be justified due to the skewed cultural paradigm that the master class…”
Like most recent Crisis classes I get lost in the monologue and longingly daydream of Alexis. Images, mere images, cross my mind. Cherubic face, welcoming demeanor, a pubescent glow. A warm, plaintive feeling fills me and I feel like I could get lost in this daydream forever. A blissful, redundant slideshow. But that bliss is broken up.
“Josiah!” Professor shouts. I react alarmed and the thoughts immediately vanish. “Are you confused? You look confused. Why are you smiling?”
I shake my head meekly and squeak out, “Um… no. Sorry.”
“Okay.” He gives a big, toothy smile so authentically confident that it leaves me unnerved for a few minutes.
And it motivates me, out of pure intimidation, to pay attention. But it doesn’t last. Those same images of Alexis swirl through my mind with a deep, relentless placidity.
As my mind wanders and I envision tonight and wonder what will happen. We get back from the dance and the parties begin. I make her a strong drink and she begins to act looser, babble about whatever, and I listen and listen and pretend to care while I formulate plans to bring her into my bedroom. Go to my computer. Woo her with my iTunes collection? Who knows. It’s not hard to impress people when they’re drunk.
I get deeper and deeper into my strategy and begin to really consider this as a realistic scenario when I realize I’m lost in my own world. I quickly change face and stare at Professor Gladstone. He’s gesturing to no one in particular, lost in his own bombast, getting more cartoonishly self-absorbed in his lecture. He doesn’t notice me. He doesn’t notice anyone.
He goes on for a few more minutes and then announces that he’s returning last week’s papers. It was our second paper of the year. I got a C on the first one. I’ll admit it was mediocre but I figured I wouldn’t get worse than a B-. It’s close to impossible to get worse than a B- at the University. It’s also close to impossible to get better than a B+. I swear the professor collude to ensure this. I don’t know how else this could be possible. This cruel confederacy for mediocrity.
Professor hands me the paper. As usual I flip the pages gingerly, afraid to check the big, bold letters at the last page. I eventually get there, and it’s a hardly surprising but disappointing C+/B-. I spent awhile on this beast. No other professor would give me worse than a B+. But this guy is hard. The hardest professor I’ve ever had.
While reviewing the paper and his annotations I decide to talk to him.
“I was wondering if I could talk to you about the paper sometime.”
“I have office hours today. You can come by then.”
“Okay. See you… then.”
He nods and leaves. Providing the hours up front would be too much of a plebian task I guess. I whip out my syllabus.
Office Hours: M W F 2-4. The investigation is over.