Thursday, March 10, 2005


There are some things that are really unacceptable. While I am of the belief that censorship of any type is bad, especially in a University, I also believe that there is a level of common sense and decorum that should be adhered to in an academic setting.

Today, in an American Literature class, we were discussing E. A. Poe, in particular, The Fall of the House of Usher. The discussion concerned, in part, Poe's use of the taboo against incest, and the intimation of necrophilia in the story.

As the discussion progressed, we spoke about how in the 18th and early 19th centuries, there was some question as to the connection between Phisiognomy and Psychology; that is to say that there was the belief that one's demeanor and behavior could be, in some sense, predicted or assumed by their physical characteristics.

At this point, the professor said something to the effect of "I myself do not know any necrophiliacs, so I cannot attest to the truth of that idea." He looked at me when he said this, and jokingly, I said "Well, not that you know of." He responded that that was true, indeed. How would one know?

The few statements afterward were, in retrospect, what I believe to be completely inappropriate. I felt extremely uncomfortable at the time, but as I look back at it, I get more and more angry.

He said something to the effect of "Well, you might be one. Or do you like them alive? Your victims." This was said in a joking tone, but there was a palpable stir in the room, and some muttering. There was kind of a "whoa" vibe, but that's just my impression.

I just looked at him, I think my head was cocked, incredulous. I'm not sure how I looked to everyone else, but I remember shaking my head and just saying quietly "That's fucked up."

I looked over at the student that sits next to me, and he too was shaking his head slowly, as if in agreement.

In the interest of disclosure, I should qualify the situation: I freely admit that I have internal disagreements with a lot of what the professor says, but I try to not allow it to color the subject material; I read critically and come to my own conclusions about texts, hopefully with the guidance of a professor. I don't get into pissing matches with him, as he does, in the final analysis, wield the "Red Pen", and it behooves me to keep my personal politics and beliefs out of the debate. I think he's arrogant, but then so am I; I believe that a lot of arrogant peolple, when they aren't covering up for other psychological deficiences, are actually some of the most intellectually powerful and creative people that there are.

But arrogance, when coupled with derision and pretentiousness, along with the occasional couched ad hominem, makes for a weak teacher.

On reflection, I become more and more aware of the implications of the type of statement that the professor directed at me. It borders on slander.

One can liken it to calling someone a Child Molestor. It's totally unacceptable to call someone a child molestor, even in a joking manner. Why is this? It is because once you say something like that, even in jest, you cannot un-say it. It is as if you have indicted the person by association; once it is said out loud, it opens the door to speculation. A whole potential chain of thought is unleashed, and one might find themselves actually asking the question "Could X really be a child molestor?"

Things like this can cause the loss of a job, distrust in relationships, as well as having an influence on how one is perceived among their peers.

So it is, too, with the casually thrown slur "necrophiliac". He did not explicitly say I was one, just as he did not say that I was a serial killer through the second part of his statement. But the implicit tone was that I could, potentially be one.

Why does this disturb me? I know that I am not, yet I wonder how a statement like that influences the perceptions of the people around me. It's as if an unintentional seed of thought has been planted, and while probably relatively harmless, it disturbs me deeply that such a comment could roll off of his tongue so easily. It's as if he had no governor between his thoughts and his mouth.

Words mean things, and I think it could not hurt for people to choose what they say with a little more thought for the potential effects on those around them, and the ripples that continue long after the stone is thrown into the pond.

Rant over. If you have any feedback, by all means, comment.

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