Chronicle of Higher Education, By William Pannapacker (Published on October 14, 2012)
Every fall, during convocation, as we professors parade in our academic regalia, I am reminded of the march of the penitents in Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal.
It is not just the medieval ceremony; it’s the reflexive small talk:
“Did you have a good summer?”
“Well, I got a lot of writing done. And you?”
“Yes, I delivered a book manuscript, I’m waiting for decisions on two articles, and I taught three summer courses.”
“That’s too bad. All that teaching must have cut into your productivity.”
As I eavesdrop on such conversations, I imagine them punctuated by the whish and crack of the flagellant’s whip.
Of course, I am a penitent, too. If someone asks, “How are you?,” I sigh, shrug, and say, “Busy, like everyone else.” If pressed, I will admit that I spent some time with my family—the way a Mormon might confess to having tried a beer, once. For more than 20 years, I have worn what Ian Bogost has called “the turtlenecked hairshirt.” I can’t help it; self-abnegation is the deepest reflex of my profession, and it’s getting stronger all the time.
Read more on the Chronicle’s website.
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