Brief Note: So, I’m grading intro to lit papers. I don’t mind so much because the class is unusually good this semester and the books they chose are ones that interest me – as well as interest them. One of my students has been, in my opinion, led astray by the famous Achebe essay that simplifies Conrad. He is eating it up – in fact, his conclusion is that the Bible’s message (and I guess Achebe’s and what Conrad’s should have been) is that we should never judge anyone else. But in the midst of the paper is this interesting observation: “As most people would agree, he who has the gold makes the rules, and so wealthier nations are looking at having the correct ideas of culture because they are thriving more than other cultures. I think the line is drawn between people that are in pursuit of money, power, and sex versus people in pursuit of survival.”
Well, there’s human nature and there’s human nature. We might not like power struggles, but subsistence cultures have their downsides. My task now is to tactfully ask how the first sentence relates to the second, since the “gold” – valuable resources – are in Africa, where the pursuit is primarily for subsistence. And perhaps the whole system he disparages (that is “judgemental”) and its concomitant rule of law might have something to do with that difference. Of course, Conrad shows cannibals who restrain themselves because of their rules (rules by which, one assumes, they judge one another) even when starving.
The student is a nice guy; he handed in a paper twice as long and spent twice the thought needed to be to get a decent grade. But he’s given to impulses. He walked out of class the first day to get a drink of water after he had come in late and sat at the front. I pointed out, after class, that that wasn’t very polite. He apologized profusely. He is the same student who was taken from class by the police one day. The police had been waiting outside when I arrived; I was surprised they wanted any one from this generally pleasant class but they said they only had his name but not his picture, so I called to him and he left in their custody. He sent me another e-mail, feeling he should explain that he’d thought he’d paid all his fines for the day he had two citations, but it turned out he’d only paid one. He apologized profusely. You get the picture – he’s a nice guy and is actually pretty respectful to the police and to me, but he hasn’t quite reached the stage of impulse control yet. I don’t think Achebe is going to help him reach it – though I think Conrad might.