by JIM KNIPFEL
February 10, 2019
School for Corpses, Part III: No Class
Three days after the most demoralizing and infuriating job interview I’ve ever experienced—all part of my ongoing and questionable efforts to snag a teaching job in the Humanities Department of a local art school—I turned in, as requested, outlines for five potential new courses. They were well ahead of the appointed deadline, but I was determined to show this department chair, as hateful as she was, that I was serious. I’m stupidly stubborn that way. When someone makes it clear they think I’m incapable of doing something I know I’m perfectly capable of doing, I set about trying to cram it down his or her wormy throat.
They were damned good classes too, most of them. The ones that were my idea, anyway. Two I must admit were a bit pandering. But there was a madness to my method.
So there was a class about The Beats, with one section devoted to how they were portrayed in the mainstream media. That one seemed a simple gimme. There was one about novels and films set in New York City in which the city itself overwhelms the characters and story to take the lead. And there was my beloved Nihilism class, which I’d been developing in my head for about twenty years now. Oooh, but that one was a winner. The idea from the start was to write a massive book about the history, psychology and sociology of nihilism, but after the 2016 presidential campaign got underway, I figured I might as well dump those hundreds of pages of notes I’d been gathering, now that they were completely irrelevant. But this was a chance to put them to work, to explain to the youngsters exactly where the current ugliness had come from, and why it was inevitable.
The two pandering courses were things I’d cobbled together from the interim chair’s incoherent gibberish and blizzard of meaningless buzzwords. During the interview, she’d strongly hinted they were courses she’d like to see. One had something to do with oral traditions and my blindness and modern things and The Self and, and podcasts and my blindness and modern things and other stuff the Millennials would like. And my blindness. The other seemed to be about Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and The Constitution. Or something like that. I’d done what I could to turn them into something at least moderately coherent, even though I wasn’t much interested in teaching either one. If it got my foot in the door, I could fake it well enough.
Although my enthusiasm was starting to wane—Christ, I’d have to deal with this woman all the time if I got hired?—I still quietly dreaded seeing what her response would be. It arrived Monday afternoon:
A quick reading of your course proposals tells me:
1. The proposed course on the Beats is not possible; we have a Beat scholar in the department.
2. The NYC and Nihilism courses are interesting, but they may repeat portions of other courses.
4. New Oral tradition is promising, Is this a media study course? A literature course? A course on the persistence of story telling? (our students are very interested in story telling.)
5. “What Makes America great” focuses on foundational literature/documents, an emphasis that will cause the course to be labeled American history. This focus excludes women and native Americans in the Colonial, Revolutionary and early American phases. Can you define (summarize) what made America great beside a lot of land? Was it only these foundational documents, these sacred texts. What else?
Please let me know what you think.
What I think? Well, let’s see.
At heart what I thought was that none of it surprised me in the least. In fact it was pretty much exactly what I expected.
I was perfectly willing to let the Beat thing slide. It made sense they should have a Beat scholar on the faculty. Until I learned from a friend who teaches there that there was, in fact, no such scholar on the faculty.
I could also understand that someone might already be teaching something about New York City in literature and film, but did she expect me to honestly believe anyone there was teaching Nihilism? Yes, well. Couldn’t get too bent out of shape, as I never really expected that one to fly anyway.
As for the Founding Fathers, women and Indians, I wanted to remind her the class was her idea, and that I hadn’t mentioned Indians because so far as I’m aware Indians didn’t help write the Constitution, you silly goon.
So in short she’d nixed essentially four and a half of the five ideas. That left me with half of that damned oral tradition thing to reconfigure. And you bet your ass I was going to reconfigure it. It was just the opening I was hoping for.
Right around that point I realized that while I was playing chess, she was playing dodgeball. She was taking wild swings and making ham-fisted moves, coming up with any way imaginable to not hire me without coming out and saying she would not hire me, and I was trying to maneuver the pieces around her. The perfect solution to her mind was obviously that I should come out and admit it would never work, that I shouldn’t try to teach. That way her hands would be clean. My position was futile, but I was not about to concede. Let her be the one to give me a flat no. Even if I didn’t want the fucking job anymore, I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction. I wasn’t about to let her off the hook, thinking, “Well, I tried to give the poor cripple a job, but he just wasn’t up to it.”
So it was Monday afternoon. I’d been told the previous week I needed to have something in by Tuesday if there was any chance of getting it into the Spring course catalog on time. So I set to work on recasting that oral history business.
First thing I did was excise all references to adaptive technology, audiobooks and disability. I wasn’t going to be her cripple monkey, even though I’ve no doubt if I’d proposed something about blindness and the arts she would’ve eaten it up. Maybe it was a bad move, but I’m sick of that shit, and the sheer bad faith of her righteousness made me want to fucking puke.
Instead I turned it into a conspiracy theory course. At least that one I could teach with some enthusiasm and authority, and without gagging.
Then I whipped up another course for good measure. Although I knew she’d likely dismiss that one out of hand as well, I made a point of including a few women and minorities in the syllabus, just to ensure that wouldn’t be her excuse. Now here’s hoping she had no idea who Iceberg Slim was.
I then sent that latest little package off to her, and waited. As I did, my friend on the faculty called to tell me the school had just hired an official “curriculum consultant” in the form of an uptight Asian woman, and that all courses had to go through her for approval.
Ah, Christ-o-Matic, I was beginning to remember why I ducked out of academics in the first place.
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