The Cambridgiad

December 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm 2 comments

| Gabriel |

Goddess, sing of the sublime and funky love of Brother West,
celebrated, hyped, that cost Harvard many grad students,
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Summers lord of Cambridge and brilliant Brother West

Professor Hopkins, priestess of MIT,
approached the scholars to move up her daughter’s defense date,
and send her onto the job market, then flourishing
at private schools with reckless investments,
and at state schools with tax windfalls.
The king dismissed her, “Never again, old bitch,
let me catch you west of Beacon Street!
The girl–I won’t give up the girl. Long before that,
old age will overtake her in my office, in Littauer Hall,
far from the grad housing, slaving back and forth,
at the computer, forced to co-author my papers!”

Hopkins was terrified and nearly fainted. She obeyed the order,
taking the T back to Kendall Square.
Moving to a safe distance she called the New York Times,
“Hear me Gray Lady! Voice of the conventional wisdom,
who strides central Manhattan sacrosanct.
If ever I got back to you with a quote when you were on a deadline,
Pay the scholars back–your op-eds for my tears!”

Nine days the barbs of the pundits rained down through the scholars.
On the tenth day Brother West called the tenured faculty to muster.
Once they’d gathered, crowding the faculty senate,
the poetical Brother West rose and spoke among them:
“Scholars, now we are humiliated, I fear our prestige is lost,
how can we ever recruit grad students, or junior faculty,
when we can scarcely show our faces at cocktail parties!
Conventional wisdom is enraged because the king spurred Hopkins,
he refused to let his grad student defend,
he refused to write a letter of recommendation,
That is why the pundits send us pain and will send us more,
not til we send the girl to the job market,
and create a hundred new diversity initiatives,
then we can calm the pundits, and only then appease them!”

Summers–furious, his aspy heart filled to the brim,
“Now, again, the pundits’ wrath,
assume for the sake of argument,
it is brought on by my keeping the girl.
Indeed, I want her in my lab! I rank her
higher than my faculty co-authors.
But I am willing to let her defend, even so,
if that is best for all. What I really want
is to keep our US News ranking,
not see us displaced by Yale.
But I shall raise our rankings again,
by meeting regularly with the university professors,
to see that they are still writing scholarly works,
and not just recording mediocre pop music,
or appearing on television.”

A dark glance
and the headstrong philosopher answered him in kind: “Shameless–
armored in shamelessness–always shrewd with arrogance!
What do you care? Nothing. You didn’t write Race Matters.
And now you threaten to strip me of my dignity–
that I fought for long and hard, working in
theology and philosophy.

No more now–
down go I to Princeton. Better that way by far,
to journey to my doctoral institution on the Acela.
I have no mind to linger here disgraced,
monitored like a miscreant grad student!”

But the lord of men Summers shot back,
“Desert, by all means–if the spirit drives you home!
I will never beg you to stay, not on my account.
Go home with your colleagues and grad students,
lord it over the Jerseymen!
You are nothing to me–you and your overweening agape!”

So Brother West wept and prayed,
the proud philosopher groaned: “You know, you know,
why labor through it all? You know it all so well …
I wrote Race Matters once,
I saw it translated into Japanese, Italian, and Portuguese.
I wrote The American Evasion of Philosophy once,
and it was translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Italian.
My book Democracy Matters was translated into Spanish,
and printed a hundred thousand fold —
there’s also an edition that’s selling in the French-speaking world.
All nineteen of my books are still in print,
with the exception of the two that won the American Book Award in 1993.
But when called to appease the Times,
Summers takes from me my dignity, my autonomy.
But you, Jesus, if you have any power at all,
protect your son! Go to DC, plead with US News and World Report,
persuade them somehow to bring Yale up in the rankings,
to let students choose Yale over Harvard,
to let the scholars see their grants rejected,
let there be nary an NIH R01 at HMS!
So all can reap the benefits of their king–
so even mighty Pinker can see how mad he was,
to disgrace Brother West, the best of the faculty!”

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  • 1. Jay Livingston  |  December 11, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I take it that you are using the mock-epic here to contrast the inflated view that these guys have of themselves with the far less heroic reality of their petulant squabbles.

    I’m not much of a classicist — my ignorance is broad and deep. But if seems that if you look at the gods or mythic heroes as though they were ordinary mortals (as ordinary as, say, West and Summers), their motivations and rationales too would seem like petty narcissism. Which maybe it is.

    • 2. gabrielrossman  |  December 11, 2009 at 1:39 pm

      well i thought it was funny to compare academics to legendary warriors, but only to highlight how the culture of honor saturates academia. in classical epics the motivations and rationales of gods and heroes weren’t necessarily especially virtuous — in particular Achilles is a cry baby and Agamemnon is a bully. this post is a pretty close parody of Book 1 of The Iliad. The Iliad is basically the story of a great talent withdrawing because of wounded pride which I see as the main thematic parallel w/ West.

      in the original, Chryses curses the Greeks until Agamemnon gives back his concubine. Agamemnon takes Achilles’ concubine in compensation. Achilles then throws a huge temper tantrum that goes on for about 10,000 verses.

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