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Friday, August 23, 2013

#Existentialism in Practice by John von Daler

                 Like quite a few of my colleagues at Copenhagen University, I was also greatly influenced by #Jean-Paul Sartre in the seventies, that decade within which the sixties really took place.
                One of the principles I subscribed to forbid me to fail any student, so I faithfully read their papers and wrote devastating criticisms of the bad ones, handed them back and expected to receive them again in a much better form. This caused both me and some of my students more hours of work than we originally had planned, but then painstaking democratic justice takes time - and incredible patience. I ended up with some very hardworking and painstaking pupils.
                I took pains myself those days to even out the differences in rank between teacher and student. As a matter of fact, I had just quit studying, so perhaps I felt an affinity with my pupils.
                I gave a lecture series on Sinclair Lewis in a stately auditorium in the main building of the university once habituated by Danish greats like Grundvig and Kirkegaard. Here the lecturer was supposed to ascend a curved stairway to a wooden pulpit designed to keep the speaker at a great distance from his listeners - and I suppose a little closer to God. I chose to remain on the floor and to pace back and forth in front of the fifty or sixty students.
                Later I taught a course on Updike in a smaller, more modern room. At the very first lecture I arrived early and unpacked about twenty of Updike's books onto the middle of one side of a low, modern table. Students drifted in sitting everywhere along the table except at the end where they left the "teachers chair" vacant. A beautiful girl sat down next to me, noticed my stack of Updike and commented a little testily  that I "certainly had done my reading". I could not have agreed with her more. As I moments later started my initial lecture, I made certain to enjoy out of the corner of my eye the rise of blood into a very becoming blush on her face.
                Of course as research and biography have taught us later, Sartre probably would have seduced the young girl and stolen her blush forever. I made do with what I thought was the right democratic attitude - and her rosy face has since evaporated into the thin air of memory.


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