Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ben from Boston Gets Baffled and Battered by Batshit Bernie.

Bernard is a non-traditional student in my philosophy class. We focus on writing in this class, teaching students who have a taste of philosophy already how to structure a tight argument, address counter-examples, and generally how to discipline themselves to the process of writing (notes, research, outlines, drafts, more drafts, etc). In other words, we do a lot of writing, and subject that writing to a lot of scrutiny. Bernard claims he's enthusiastic about philosophy. He's excited to be here. Indeed, he's present for every class, always attentive, and turns in every assignment on time or early.

He's also completely batshit crazy.

His writing isn't just bad, it's incomprehensible. He switches voice midsentence. He punctuates apparently at random. He makes sweeping declarations and invokes impenetrable allusions, but never actually approaches anything like argument or analysis. He changes how he cites and quotes with every quote and citation. Oh, yeah, and he cites himself.

No, seriously. Apparently, a few years ago, he had an epiphany of some sort, and wrote... something. A diary? An epic poem? There's no telling from the bits and pieces that appear in his papers, but nevertheless, he occasionally quotes from his magnum opus and cites it with his initials and the year. I asked him about this and he confirmed my suspicions. He's citing his own, unpublished navel-gazing.

This was the same conversation in which he told me he doesn't "get" parts of speech.

I don't even know what to think about this guy. I would LOVE to tell him to drop out, do something else, whatever - just quit wasting his time. Sounds cruel, I know, but for reasons I can't disclose even with anonymity for both Bernie and myself, I doubt he'll ever really improve. Yet, here he is, filling a seat which is reserved (and required) for majors and which has a waiting list.

I respect a point. His enthusiasm about philosophy has shot right past admirable and into scary. He has precisely zero chance of succeeding at this major (and possibly any other), and the fact that he apparently has NO awareness of that fact depresses me.

In the meantime, I do derive SOME enjoyment out of his surrealist papers.