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Friday, 14 January 2011

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Karl Steel

isn't the story that the greatest winner of the game lost her job by confessing she'd never read Hamlet? Or am I misremembering (i.e., inventing)?

SEK

You're remembering mostly correctly: it was a he, Philip Swallow, who is alluded to have lost his job in Small World.

tomemos

Actually, I think both of you are misremembering. I think what Karl is thinking of is the Malvolio-esque (and male) American professor, Ringbaum, who in Changing Places is driven by his desperate need to win to admit to never having read Hamlet. Then, he's denied tenure because the committee feels they can't in good conscience give tenure to someone who's never read Hamlet, and he's still smarting about this in Small World. I don't think Philip Swallow ever loses his job--in Nice Work he's still at Rummidge, as chair.

SEK

I do believe you're correct, Tomemos. I'm not sure why I pegged Swallow, despite having the book in front of me. That said, the reason I felt obliged to quote the passage at length was because I feared not everyone knew from "Humiliation." I thought it was an English in-joke, but I take it I'm in the wrong there too?

tomemos

Oh, I think it probably is an in-joke--who knows if I ever would have read any of those books (all of which I enjoyed) if Nice Work hadn't been assigned to me in English class…

Karl Steel

Thanks all!

I can't even imagine the kind of self-indulgence a proffie would have to, er, indulge in to assign a 'professors doing things' novel to his/her students.

Martin Wisse

Oh, this injoke has long since escaped into the wild.

Ahistoricality

I don't know, Karl. If you're teaching about satire, and want a topic that your students will actually identify with, a satire on academic life would require a lot less explanation than, say, the usual Jonathan Swift, or random McSweeney's droppings.

Karl Steel

except that David Lodge/Jane Smiley/Mary McCarthy/Randell Jarrell/Kingsley Amis/Francine Prose/A.S. Byatt campus novels are about professors, not students, at least not primarily. If students dig jokes about academic conferences, departmental meetings, fights with the provost and dean, &c., then more power to them, but I think these are jokes that primarily appeal to me and my ilk, god help us.

For students and satire, there's always The Onion.

tomemos

This was definitely a strange class. It was on comedy, but after Aristophanes, Plautus, Juvenal, Shakespeare, and Moliere, our reading list got very strange. No Swift, no Wilde, no, I don't know, Louis Carroll or H.L. Mencken—we read The Red and the Black, and then Lucky Jim, Nice Work, Philip Roth's The Counterlife (hardly the funniest Roth book), Stoppard's Arcadia, and we watched Animal House. That's right--three works on campus life. It was most odd.

Karl Steel

Wow. No Chaucer either, then.

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