Mi Paranoia es Tu Paranoia or, A Response to a Facebook Post

Thirty years ago, more or less, I took a seminar in college on Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49 for the warm-up and Gravity’s Rainbow for the rest of the semester. The professor teaching was a brilliant, goofy Virginian that everyone thought, as impressionable young students often do at other colleges of their Pynchon professors, that our man was him. It’s ludicrous, of course. But it was stoked even further when said professor went on sabbatical “to tour the South” and a few years later Mason & Dixon was published.

Some hangers-on still cling to the notion that our old professor was Pynchon lampooning as a Virginian with a PhD. I like to imagine that even Thomas Pynchon has his limits.

Anyway, I have since gone back to Lot 49 and GR several times over the years, and all his other books save Slow Learner in its entirety. My favorite is probably Against the Day. Vineland had its moments. Oddly enough, I didn’t enjoy Inherent Vice as much as I should have. Bleeding Edge had its moments too, especially the passage about people eventually submitting to surveillance:

“Dick Tracy’s wrist radio? it’ll be everywhere, the rubes’ll all be begging to wear one,” decries Ernie, “handcuffs of the future.”

I wouldn’t be so flippant as to say Pynchon’s an acquired taste. Good literature as we all know has more to it than that. But if you’re like me and you memorize license plates of cars that pass your house more than twice in one day it’s nice to know someone out there knows, as William Burroughs once pointed out in reference to paranoia, a little about what’s going on.

We Are Legion or, Some Thoughts On Higher Education After The Election

I read two news articles about tests being cancelled at two different universities after the election. The comments following each blamed “socialist liberal professors” for “poisoning” the minds of young people, turning them into “babies” who “can’t cope with reality.” As William James once wrote, a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. So, if by “poisoning” these people mean teaching young people how to think critically then let me be the one to say you’re welcome.

It’s no secret that many people think that colleges and universities have agendas. If by agenda they mean teaching students to think critically so that they can become fully engaged members of society, acting as agents of change, if they so choose, then yes that is an agenda. The opposite of thinking critically is blind obedience to the will of the State.

Many of the students I teach are first-generation college students. They often feel alone because they have no point of reference at home where higher education is concerned. All of my students, just like their peers who went straight to work after high school, are navigating the world on their own terms, trying to make sense of it all and facing threats that we couldn’t conceive of when we were their age. They are not “babies,” per se; they are, however, bombarded by information, in and out of the classroom, at a rate that we didn’t experience at their age.

As educators, we have a responsibility to our students, part-time or full-time, young or old, rich or poor. We will not be intimidated by enemies of intellect. It’s been two days since the election and already there have been incidents of violence and hate at various campuses across the country. It’s no stretch to think that it will get worse before it gets better.

In the coming days, we will not let others intimidate our diverse student body, threatening them because of their skin color, because of their religion, because of their sexual orientation, or the ideas that they ponder as they navigate their young and admittedly, at times, difficult lives. After all, we are Legion. And we are everywhere.