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.