Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure

My short schrifts have been getting the short shrift this week, as I've been getting ready for a last-minute, pinch-hitting teaching assignment: an upper-level seminar in literary theory for undergraduates. One of my favorite profs recently fell ill and she, along with my department chair, asked me to fill in.

The first class was this afternoon: the first part of Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique generale. Very few of the kids had taken any literary theory before, but for the most part they were into it. They asked good questions, and gave good answers. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the 19-year-olds I teach are still 19-year-old Ivy Leaguers: they know how to read a text, and what to do in a classroom. I used the chalkboard too much and got chalk dust all over my carefully selected, "cool prof" outfit, but after a three-year teaching hiatus, I was having fun again.

During a conversation with another Penn professor on Sunday, she and I agreed that not enough attention is paid to the fact that professors -- especially in the humanities -- are really paid to speak and write, not to think hard or rifle through archives doing research. Teaching crystallizes that: nowhere else do you have to put ideas into clearly defined and spoken action.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Now see, you gotta expand on that, TC. Because I thought the big complaint was that profs get paid to place tedious academic papers in subfield-specific journals -- not to speak or write or teach clearly for undergraduates or the general public or anyone else -- and that's why we have all these cruddy classes. So whazzup?

P.S. I'll bet your "academy chic" outfit was bangin'.