Untenured

Untenured

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 19 1999 9:30 PM

Untenured

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Dear readers, before I bid you adieu, I want to thank you for your mail. It seems that we, the "Untenured," are legion. But I must admit I am befuddled by responses I've gotten from the rest of you. In the last few days, I have received letters excoriating me for my insensitivity, my cruelty, my emotional selfishness. You have expressed sorrow, sadness, anger, and indignation that one such as I should be charged to touch the tender minds of young people when I am so clearly lacking in a moral center. But have you not perhaps mistaken levity for flippancy, spleen for nihilism, irony for irresponsibility? News Flash: The "Diary" is true fiction. In my defense, I invoke nothing less than my own vocation, literature itself. Listen to the sound of Melville's great song of American naysaying:

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 ... whenever it is a damp and drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can.

It is very late. I have had a long, hard day. I have taught classes, met with two graduate students who are preparing Ph.D. exams, written letters of evaluation. I also attended a brilliant lecture by a visiting scholar. Since the lecture was very difficult, I felt duty-bound to ask a question that would clarify it for others.

Incidentally, the incomparable young B. showed up at the lecture. When he saw me, he brightened visibly. I was talking to another professor. He circled around cautiously and then asked, shyly, "Are you going to the lecture?" When I said that I was, he smiled, pleased. The very sight of me there listening while he listens would make him hear better. He knew it and I knew it.

After the lecture, I went out to dinner with the speaker and some colleagues. I ate well. Even untenured professors who bite the hands that feed them are sometimes well fed. And now, at 3:00 a.m., I find myself responding to the few of you who mistake the devil in me for my authentic self. I feel the need to quote Melville. And I have to restrain myself from hauling in, say, Notes From the Underground. Now, why do you think I would feel compelled to explicate? Substantiate? Illustrate?

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Maybe it's because I'm a teacher.