I continue walking swiftly through Middle Campus. I blow by a herd of hooknasties as pure and refined as the lawns of the suburban homes they were raised in.
I’m pretty sure Professor Gladstone doesn’t even know what he’s talking about quite frequently. But he’s so confident and righteous, his comments are full of so much aplomb and gravitas, that you gotta believe him.
Photo illustration by Stacey Warde
Will not be dressed in dockers
“Sometimes I think that knowledge–when it’s for knowledge’s sake anyway–is the worst of all.”
–J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
By Matthew Powers
I awake unusually refreshed, yet lost in that ethereal half-sleep that occurs so often when you wake up. I was so damn fatigued last night I forgot to set my alarm. It’s 11:47 a.m., seventeen minutes later than I usually arise, which means it’s a near certainty that I’ll be late for my only class of the day: Theories of Internationalism.
That’s right, only one class for Friday. Scheduling classes on college is something of a science and I’m an expert. Friday is the pivotal day, to ensure a relaxing transition into the weekend and leave Thursday night open for boozing. Most people do it for the latter reason and I had the same intentions. Little did I know that I’d be working at Tromboni’s Thursday nights, or, more importantly, be bogged down with homework.
The drudgery of Theories of Internationalism is astounding. The mere quantity of work isn’t remarkable though. It’s insurmountable for sure, but so is every class. No, the overwhelming part about it is that you actually have to do the work. No shortcuts with Theories. Every class is akin to an interrogation. Professor Gladstone will rarely randomly call out someone. But the mere fear is reason enough to be absolutely prepared. The guy is a mad bull on his pulpit, truly intimidating. You gotta be at the top of your game.
I rummage around to find something to wear, brush my teeth, and waste time. Even during mornings, when I’m rested and in a rush, I still manage to waste time. I usually just space out, aimlessly wander. I’m really not sure. I get lost in a time warp I guess you could say.
I’m dressed and toss my assigned readings into my bag. I exit my dorm and drift downstairs, then walk briskly to Gardner Hall. It’s 12:01 p.m. Fuck. Already late. This is at least the fourth consecutive Internationalism class I’ll be late for. People are always baffled when I tell them I’m sleeping: “That’s your excuse for being late, Burnsides?” This is more understandable when I tell them I go to bed at 4 a.m. every night.
I continue walking swiftly through Middle Campus. I blow by a herd of hooknasties as pure and refined as the lawns of the suburban homes they were raised in. I know. All the kids here are the same as the kids I grew up with in Westchester. The Campus Rotunda is looking immaculate as always but I have no time to appreciate it. It’s 12:04 now, approaching that certain time when I’ll actually be embarrassed to be late. The imposing, opulent façade of Gardner Hall appears more like an antebellum mansion than a modern day university classroom. I always imagine old, genteel men smoking cigars in rocking chairs along the building’s veranda and that crosses my mind right now as I hit its steps.
I plow through the steel, Coats-of-Arms adorned doors. I slide along the marble floor and ascend a maze of stairways. I reach Room 204, my destination. And I am seven minutes late.
I enter in the middle of a polysyllabic thunderstorm and find a seat in the back.
“…are the phenomenological traits of Hegelian metaphysics. Like Hegel, Kierkegaard believed in an omniscient, transcendental deity–colloquially understood as ‘God’–although his existential perspective on the supernatural differed widely from Hegel and his progenitors. It’s important to remember that while Kierkegaard really reflected proto-existentialism –not the true existentialism of Sartre and Beauvoir–his ontological scrutiny influenced many. But this is a digression. You see…”
Haphazard, unfocused, wordy. A good deal of name checking. Professor Gladstone seems to be at the top of his game. I don’t actually know what he’s talking about, and I don’t think it’s because I arrived late. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know what he’s talking about either quite frequently. But he’s so confident and righteous, his comments are full of so much aplomb and gravitas, that you gotta believe him. Even when I’m consciously aware that he’s probably bs-ing it I still manage to dissuade myself. I wish I were more critical of the guy.
“…the proletariat is disenfranchised due to the overarching, structural rigidity that the system cultivates. The mode of production no longer correlates to the means of production, thereby creating a skewed, rhizomorphic cultural paradigm…”
It appears that Professor Gladstone is in the middle of another furious oratory about dialectical materialism, one of his favorite topics. I use these phrases intentionally. Rarely does it feel like Professor Gladstone teaches or educates. Rather it feels more like a lacerating polemic; an erudite soliloquy when he’s in a diplomatic mood.
“…this commodification subsequently eviscerates any viable or prospective interdependence that social groups can feasibly attain. At this point the means of production conflict with the post-industrial methods of distribution which…”
Professor is especially decked out this afternoon: Jaxon Basque beret, velvet Gucci jacket, black multi-print Louis Vuitton scarf. The Revolution Will Not Be Dressed in Dockers.
As he twitches his head his beret moves slightly. He doesn’t notice, and I doubt anyone else does, but I’m a pretty keen observer of his attire at all times. I notice stuff like this. It intrigues, bewilders, even fascinates me: that he wears his egalitarianism like a designer suit and gets away with it.”
My favorite proletariat rambles onward, with a ferocity hitherto unknown throughout history.
“…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 images of last weekend and my own philosophical rager. It was a post-party at my friend Brian Adams’ place. I got in an argument about existentialism with some dude I recognized from my Intro to Philosophy course last year. I was supremely wasted and feeling in the groove: Just babbling and babbling to everyone, being a goofball, the life of the party. Recognizing the guy just got me started going on about the class. He mentioned something about existentialism; he may have just mentioned the word. I don’t know. But I went off on him. I can’t recall the content of what I said to him, or even what I was talking about, totally lost in mountains of esoteric balderdash and firestorms of vitriol. I felt embarrassed the next morning, hoping I wouldn’t run into the guy. I haven’t so far.
“…the masses have no means of recourse, no alternative to the predatory ethos that imbues The Establishment. It is no wonder then, that the masses servilely obey the hierarchy and the invidious propaganda that they perpetuate…”
I begin to longingly daydream of Alexis. Once again images, mere images, of her cross my mind. Cherubic face, welcoming demeanor, a pubescent glow. These are the same images that whiz across my mind the past few weeks–effortlessly and inevitably. A warm, plaintive feeling fills me and I feel like I could get lost in the daydream forever: A blissful, redundant, sedentary slideshow. But that bliss is broken up.
“Jeremy!” Professor shouts. In my alarm, the images of Alexis immediately vanish. “Are you confused? You look confused. Why are you smiling?”
I shake my head meekly and squeak out, “Um…no…sorry.”
“OK.” He gives a big, toothy smile so authentically confident that it leaves me unnerved. I guess I was smiling. It wouldn’t surprise me. When I space out, my disposition tends to reflect what I’m thinking about. I can’t hide it.
Professor resumes with a more abstruse invective and I make a conscious effort to pay attention. I make the effort out of pure fear, fear that Professor Gladstone will retort with a more incendiary condemnation. And it works. At least for a while. But as Professor bloviates on and on about dialectics and shifting paradigms and theoreticians, I can’t help but revert to my calm, soothing fantasies of Alexis.
I get deeper and deeper into my thoughts 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 pedagogy. He doesn’t notice me. He doesn’t notice anyone.
I check my watch. 12:47 p.m. Class will end in three minutes and I strenuously try to be attentive but I don’t have to. Professor announces that he’s returning papers from last week. 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- on a paper at The University. It’s also close to impossible to get better than a B+. I swear the professors collude to ensure this: a vast conspiracy for mediocrity.
I receive the paper. As usual I flip each page gingerly, afraid to check out the bold red letters at the last page. But I get there, a hardly unsurprising but disappointing C+/B-. I spent a while on this paper and my other professors would’ve given it 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.”
“OK. See you…then.”
He nods and leaves. Giving me the time of the office hours would be too much of a plebian task. I whip out my syllabus.
Office Hours: M W F 2-4
I pack up and get out of there. Despite the anxiety-inducing rebuke, despite the shitty grade, I race down the stairways relieved. Relieved that class is over. Relieved that I get a one-hour respite from Professor Gladstone’s profundities. Relieved that the weekend is truly here and limitless possibilities await. §
Matthew Powers recently graduated from Boston College and moved to California, where he’s writing a book about university life. He can be reached at email@example.com.