52 SONGS

...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Renata Adler

     On the other hand, our local controversy is whether we ought to require the ability to read at an eighth-grade level before we let any university student in. I can't understand how that is the question. Surely we are obligated to give them, at least, an eighth-grade education while they're here and before we send them out. "I found the whole work disappointing," Nina Valindez, a student in one of my own courses, here in the city, wrote, in her paper last term. "It was more theatrical than filmic. It did, however, remind me of many nineteenth-century novels such as Vanity Fair by Thakkry. And many of the better novels of Jane Austen." Pat Gertz, one of my best students, wrote a paper on "The Sorted Love Affair in Fiction of the Forties." The paper expressed all the views that a student of my generation might have held, of which affairs were and which were not to be considered "sorted." And yet. And Shelley Muess. Ms. Muess, who had received a passing grade, left many agitated messages last term, after midnight, on my answering service. She warned that she would have to take our case to the Student Faculty Grievance Committee and enter a Denunciation/Demerit against my record with the Faculty Appraisal Board. I called her back. I asked what the trouble was. She said she had never received less than honors grades before. Since it had been a matter of some importance to me that I not actually flunk anybody in this intellectual swamp and rip-off I mentioned that the exam had only required each student to list the films shown in the course. Students were allowed to help one another with it, to take it home and turn it in the following week. Since Shelley Muess had missed most of the films, and misspelled the ones she got, a passing grade seemed to me not ungenerous. "Well," Shelley said, hardly able to breathe with indignation, "I'm not an English major." The chancellor of our branch of the university once asked me what I thought of the head of our division now. I said I thought he was a thug. "Ah," she said, with a chiming laugh and a lilt, clapping he hand just once. "You writers! What a way you have with words." For the most part, the students treat me with grave, gentle concern, as though I were something strange--a giraffe, say--among them, or an apprentice on a tightrope, or one of their own on a bad trip.
- Speedboat

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