Beckett hated lecturing, feeling that he had no knack for it: “I did not enjoy all those women, mooning about. They were a great problem and I was sorely tempted to ask them all to get out, to leave the room.” He used his repugnance at the thought of standing in front of a room filled with giggling young women, which he likened to exhibiting himself, as an excuse to drink heavily the night before each class in an effort to blot the coming ordeal from his mind.
His teaching technique was highly unorthodox. Instructors were required to take roll at the beginning of each class, but Beckett stopped doing it after the second lecture. He did nothing to encourage his students to pay attention or to take his lectures seriously. It didn’t matter to him if they talked, read something else or stared out the window. He was always present in the classroom before the students, staring out the window, with his back turned. When they had stopped bustling and were silent, he usually continued to stare out the window for a very long time. Finally, he would turn to face them and deliver a sentence perfectly crafted but puzzling. He spoke without notes and never seemed to have anything but the work to be discussed in front of him. Most of his students found they were able to take verbatim notes of his lectures, because when he was finished with the delivery of one sentence, he would turn again to the window, wait another long time, almost as if he had forgotten they were there, and then suddenly turn and speak again. It went on like this in every lecture.
For example, his entire lecture on Symbolism, given during a fifty-minute class period, consisted of the following cryptic comments:
“Rimbaud, Verlaine and Baudelaire were the precursors of symbolism. Baudelaire provided the text in ‘Correspondence,’ Verlaine the music. Rimbaud the dislocation of verse as affected by the Symbolists. Romanticism plus irony equals symbolism. LaForgue invented composite words like ‘éternulité.’ He died at the age of twenty-seven. It was fashionable to die young, and to be pessimistic. Some hold him to be a poet without genius or spleen. Others think him a worthy follower after Baudelaire. He was overshadowed by Rimbaud. LaForgue had no poetic development as he grew older. He is called a whiner by some. There is recurrence of motif in every one of his poems. Reminiscences of Rimbaud in his work. A symbolist because he is concerned with evocation of mood.”
By the end of November he had taken to his bed permanently, lying rigidly in the fetal position facing the wall. He lowered the blinds and spent his days in darkness with blankets pulled over his head. Nothing and no one could get him to move. His parents were summoned and they came immediately, bringing the family doctor with them. The episode was kept as quiet as possible and very few people besides the college authorities and his family knew what had happened.
Officially, he has stated on a number of occasions that he found it impossible to stand in a classroom dispensing knowledge when he himself knew so little.
Only two people were unable to accept the resignation: Rudmose-Brown, deeply disappointed that Beckett had not been able to settle down to become a great professor as he believed he could have been, and Beckett himself. Beckett said he “lost the best” when he resigned from Trinity College, and spent the following years “not knowing what to do.” He said he had “betrayed” his colleagues by resigning and had “disappointed his family and friends by his ingratitude and desertion.”
do not emulate this man! indiana jones loved teaching.
indiana jones also wore better hats than beckett.
source it, homey. we wanna learn.
Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: A Biography (New York: Summit, 1990), pp. 122-124, 135-137.
Sounds like my Torts professor.
My cup runs over with California,
and I could make no recompense
for its wealth against my poverty
but to throw my life into the sea,
and for such pride is no defense.
My cup runs over with California.
The airplanes piloted by God
that course above these hills at night
are caked in blood. And I have gnawed
their bones with fiendish appetite:
none shall contract such a debt and live.
What surety have I to give
but stones, all-grasping California?
I cannot pay for the air I breathe.
And so long as I move my pen
for the well-fed children of wealthy men,
not you nor I shall know reprieve.
Set me to shrivel in the sun,
and I will persist as a skeleton
to season your dinner with my curse.
Then keep strong charms inside your purse
and guard your fat heart, California.
Old fantasies go west to die.
None was deluded more than I.
My cup runs over with California.
Winter harvests the fruit of lies.
we have some xanax in the back of the cupboard, i think.
Are ;you keeping up on your meds?
Yes and yes.
Let’s stop fooling each other now. Certainly a box man is hardly conspicuous. He is like a piece of rubbish shoved between a guardrail and a public toilet or underneath a footbridge. But that’s different from being inconspicuous or invisible. Since he is not especially uncommon, there is every opportunity of seeing one. Surely, even you have, at least once. But I also realize full well that you don’t want to admit it. You’re not the only one. Even with no ulterior motive, apparently one instinctively averts one’s eyes. Yes, I suppose if you were to wear dark glasses at night or put on a mask, you couldn’t help being considered some very timid creature or if not that, someone up to no good. All the more so then with a box man, who conceals his whole body; one can hardly object if he is considered suspicious.
The Box Man
Continuance! My class and my work are organisms whose autonomic processes have to keep moving somehow, with or without direction from upstairs; and another such organism am I. We’ve been eating a lot of nice food, saw a string quartet make hash of Beethoven. I have either infinite time or no time, depending on which side of the loop you hold upI know! Don’t hold up either side! You can walk on water if you don’t think about it.
No liquor in the house but absinthe. J. is gone back to Stanford and will be gone many more nights before all this is through. There was some wine at the Finnegans Wake group; now I’m reading Keats and listening over and over to “Reckoner”I can’t understand most of the words and don’t really want to. It’s all our sins being reckoned. I can’t believe how sad it is.
October. I turned the heat on and moved the guitars to safe places. The class I’m teaching is turning into a bustit’s eight in the morning, the students are tired, they have other worries and have stopped bringing ideas into the room. In the absence of those ideas I can of course pace in front of the blackboard and free-associate about the books for eighty minutes, but that isn’t really what it’s supposed to be about.
My career in the absence of all other careers.
The buildings are so high in these cities.
The Keats biography points out how hard he tries in his letters to avoid any taint of self-pity. If we were all so good.
She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short. (Just another point of view to consider.)
I read and write about eight hours a day. There is an old saying ‘well begun is half done’ ‘tis a bad one. I would use instead, ‘Not begun at all till half done;’ so according to that I have not begun my poem and consequently (à priori) can say nothing about it. Thank God!
Letter from Keats to Benjamin Robert Haydon, 10 May 1817 (while writing Endymion)
Snippet from Keats:
Give me Women, Wine, and Snuff
Until I cry out, ‘Hold, enough!’
You may do so sans objection
Till the day of resurrection;
For, bless my beard, they aye shall be
My belovèd Trinity.
It’s great because Keats clearly never did a thing like that in his life. He was in the library reading King Lear over and over.
Well, I’m still here. Twice a week I go into the classroom and spend an entertaining eighty minutes flopping around outside my element, like a freshwater fish dumped in a tub of vinegar.
This year’s job list recently went up on the MLA site. Out of about 400 advertised jobs for new faculty in English literature, I came up with ten that are a) remotely within my area of study and b) in places I might possibly want to live, and that includes Arizona. Presumably I won’t be participating in that nonsense for two or three years yet, but I have been reading the Philosophy Job Market Blog with its various links to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I keep being reminded of Steve Albini’s trench of shit.
I had a thought this afternoon about technical writingpleasant, remunerative technical writing. Halcyon days at a gunmetal desk, writing instruction manuals for backyard grills and sump pumps. Of course I can rewrite the intake valve section! Glory be, world without end.
and you're at a GOOD school!
Yes. A good, good school.
I am trying to muster up some sympathy for you, but as an executive assistant fetching coffee for financial consultants, it's pretty fucking hard. What can one do besides teach?
One can be one of the financial consultants? There are not so many winners under this system.