Today is

   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"constructedness of identity"

Stop me if I've told you this one before.

When I was in grad school, I took a seminar on American literary history. Students gave talks each week on different topics. I talked, for instance, about Henry James's study of Hawthorne.

One week, a student talked (or, er, read some notes) primarily about postmodernism and Marxism. The student talked so rapidly, and the content of the speech was so rife with jargon, that I wondered briefly why we hadn't been provided with a U.N. interpreter for the occasion, and I spent the rest of the time wishing I'd stopped at Dunkin' Donuts before class and predicting that I'd live to regret having left my gloves at home that morning. When the "talk" was over, and the professor called for questions and responses, there was a brief silence during which I figured we were all deciding to consign the past half-hour to oblivion and get on with our lives. Then one brave, solitary woman blurted out, "I don't want to sound stupid, and I hope you'll forgive me, but . . . I don't understand a word you just said."

It was the closest thing I've ever experienced to a dream come true.

Of course, the class erupted into chatter, and some people laughed out loud, whether at the questioner's "stupidity" or at her refreshing candor is unclear, but I can attest that my own uncontrollable giggling arose from the latter. After things quieted down a bit, the professor contorted his body into that "Crane kick" pose that Ralph Macchio does at the end of The Karate Kid and attempted the dreaded "teachable moment" maneuver.

Professor Americanist didn't have quite the success with the Crane kick that Ralph Macchio had with it. He ended up in a heap on the floor, and we students stepped gingerly over his body as we filed out of the classroom, averting our gaze and pretending not to hear him muttering "Base . . . superstructure . . . hegemony . .. Deleuze and Guattari . . . late capitalism . . . always already . . . problematize . . . polyvalent . . ."

We hoisted the woman who had proclaimed the emperor's nakedness onto our shoulders and paraded her around the yard, cheering wildly and chanting, as though she were Doug Flutie and she had just completed that "Hail Mary" for the ages.

Ahem. Okay, so I embellished a bit after the part where the professor attempts a "teachable moment." But the rest of it really happened.

The memory of that fairy tale moment came to me, all unbidden, when I read this post on the stupidity of some postmodernist "thinkers." David Thompson is right on in his critique of Guertin's postmodernist drivel, but he reminded me that -- whatever else postmodernism has given me over the years (agita, anyone?) -- it's also given me some good laughs.


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