Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm out, I'm out, thank the Lord, I'm out

Bigshot Harvard English professor Stephen Greenblatt recently gave an incredibly pompous and self-absorbed speech to undergraduates, extolling his own bravery as a writer (via ALDaily). I'm going to leave aside the arrogant cluelessness of teaching great writing by quoting extensively from your own works, as well as the gushing, schoolgirl account of being able to actually touch the hem of Bill Clinton's garment. Instead, I bring your attention to the very end of the speech, what is clearly meant as the surprising, shocking conclusion. Here is what this renowned Shakespeare scholar, who taught many of my friends, thinks is a daring example of risk, of taking a chance, of bravery. Here is the example through which he exhorts the students of Harvard to rebel against the establishment, to tap into the secret fears of our times, to make the jaded audience squirm guiltily in their seats:

"I go on in this vein for several long, unnerving pages. Only after I have fully mimed a voice of fear and hatred, do I turn in the direction that some of you may have anticipated. For, as you may have noticed, I have already begun to conjure up the situation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. I have tried to do so in a way that enables me to suggest the play’s uneasy contemporary relevance, a sense at once fascinating and disagreeable that it is playing with fire. All my life I thought of the combustible material as anti-Semitism—or, to put the matter more carefully, Christianity’s Jewish problem. But the queasiness of Western cities no longer centers on the synagogue. It takes only a small substitution for the word 'synagogue' to tap into current fears: 'Go, Tubal, and meet me at our mosque. Go, good Tubal; at our mosque, Tubal.' "

I can picture the moment as if I were there (I have been, far too many times). Without a doubt, he paused, to let his breathtaking, courageous substitution sink in. Members of the audience gasped, then, composure regained, nodded knowingly - perhaps even applauded. Why, they suddenly realized, Muslims today are *just like* the Jews! And fear of Islam, well, it's the new, perhaps even more vicious anti-Semitism! Yes, I see now, yes! Oh, I hope the Professor doesn't get fired for daring to say it!

As the title says, I wasted a lot of money and a lot of years, but I'm finally out, thank God.

I guess I'm just too repressed, too cowardly, too blind to the truth, man. I guess I just couldn't handle playing with fire.

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