Professor Tolstoy, I Presume? ...
August 25, 2009
Professor Tolstoy, I Presume?
For the second time this week, we turn to Academics with a Sense of Humor for our blogging enjoyment. The Times Higher Education asks an interesting question: Do literary geniuses make good professors? If some of the giants were alive today, could they even get past an academic search committee? Apparently not.
The candidates: Proust, Austen, Whitman, Kafka, Flaubert, Socrates, Rimbaud, Orwell, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Buchner, and Dante.
Here’s what the THE committee had to say about Kafka:
Diligent, quiet, yet why so anxious at the thought of moving from corporate insurance to our welcoming department? His attitude may be symptomatic of an ambivalence to more than modern languages. When reminded the position is full time, he asked about holding the overflowing “Introduction to German” classes at half for a term, to “test his nerves in monstrous daily life”. The phrase strikes us as odd, as does his chafing at the admission that he’s still living at home. Besides these moments, the committee cannot put its collective finger on any blot that makes us demur, but we refrain from recommending his candidacy. If there were an investigation, we could pin nothing concrete on him, but would still find him guilty.
Tolstoy is rejected for asking whether “lepers could be hired as teaching assistants.” Whitman gets the slip for being “an exhibit for gender studies, but not a likely teacher of it.” Austen won’t do because she’s “a bit too pleased with herself.”
As I recall from my own college days, the “genius” professors weren’t always as predictable or pleasant as those who seemed more devoted to the teaching profession than to their own ideas. But I remember them better. The feet of an impassioned, bizarre, and brilliant professor were worth sitting at. They (the professors, not the feet) challenged my perception of what reasoning was, what it meant to have an independent mind. (See Nabokov’s lectures on literature.) Would they get past search committees today?
I’d love to hear from our readers on this subject in the comments (if you will do us the favor of registering). Did you distinguish between types of professors in college? Would you like to pay homage to any particular professor?
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