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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Sex in the Ivory Towers

Monday, September 06, 2010

Zadie Smith's hilarious but touching familial drama, On Beauty, is in part set on a university campus. It features a professor of aesthetics whose late career finds him emotionally, intellectually and sexually stagnant.

Having read it recently, I cannot help but wonder if one of the principle reasons for the existence of Arts departments is so that they can provide fictional settings for sexual encounters between sagging academics and nubile young students (as happens in On Beauty), in campus novels which are written by graduates of such departments in real life (such as Smith). So many times - even in the novels of excellent, realist writers such as David Lodge, JM Coetzee, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith - balding professors are irresistibly tugged into bed by stunningly bright and beautiful eighteen year old girls.

In my experience, this is such stuff as fiction is made on - and is not something I have ever known to be true of actual academic life (or at least, not in the furiously passionate way depicted in most campus novels). Nevertheless, let's keep this myth alive, as if hot blood really does pump through the gossipy corridors of the ivory towers, as if every closed door with a brass nameplate on it conceals illicit sexual liaisons. At least it gives departments of literature and their like a reason to exist, if only so that their graduates can go off and write bestselling fantasies about them.

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Posted by Alistair at 2:20 pm


Anonymous Heather said...

Nice and interesting post.
I had a crush on one of my professors before, i think it was just usual bad this kind of myths makes learning life more colorful.

5:03 pm  

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