Dispatches | June 27, 2007

This summer I packed my book bag, sharpened my pencils, polished a few apples and went back to school, for three weeks anyway. I had been selected by the college where I teach to attend a seminar in Durham, North Carolina, on Italian cinema (first bad sign: I don’t know a thing about Italian cinema).

I was perhaps a little misguided in my expectations. All the literature called the seminar “interdisciplinary,” and my colleagues who had attended it a few summers before cooed about nightly cocktail parties, fine dinners and weekend trips to the Outer Banks. After a year of intensive teaching, I thought it would be fun to unwind with equally fatigued professors over poolside drinks and talk about movies.

The first day of class, while everyone introduced themselves as film studies professors at various East Coast schools and listed very high-minded reasons for attending the seminar, it became apparent that I was out of my depth. Fellini, Rossellini, Antonioni–they all sound like pasta to me.

Each day we had three hours of class, two to three hours of movie watching and a staggering pile of reading that I never managed to finish. For three weeks it was what William Deresiewicz calls in his essay “Love on Campus” (published in American Scholar) a nonstop orgy of “brain sex.” Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to pack my mental Viagra. I just couldn’t get aroused.

Voyeuristically I watched from the sidelines as my classmates engaged in some pretty randy, exhibitionistic discourse, some so fervently that they seemed to be dancing with themselves.

Lacanian theory, a real libido killer if you ask me, is still alive and well in film studies. The signified and signifier were bouncing off the walls. “Diegesis” was another turn-on word.

During a break from reading, I ever so naughtily watched the last episode of The Sopranos. The next day, while it seemed as if the rest of the world was arguing over the ending, in class it was only mentioned in terms of perpetuating cultural stereotypes. What a mood killer.

Yes, I failed to satisfy. There I was. An intellectual wallflower. A brain-sex flop. During class discussion I never got to first base, while my classmates were going all the way.

On the flight home, all this wallflower could think about was dumb time, a glass of wine and an aspirin.