Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Consolation of Philosophy

It's funny how many parallels you can find if you look for them. Among the things I was teaching today (which is to say, the things I blathered on about and hoped the students were taking in) was the Knight's Tale from Chaucer. In it he makes reference to the mutability of Fortune, personified as a woman in the Middle Ages whose favors are given then withdrawn, something Boethius used as a starting point in his "Consolation of Philosophy." A work that Chaucer found quite influential, the Consolation counsels keeping an even keel against the vagaries of fortune by cleaving to Christian philosophy. Fortunately, his essential ideas work with other beliefs as well.

I was thinking of that as I came away from an unpleasant interview with a student who was quite hostile and full of anger. I knew it had nothing to do with me really (this is common for the student who seems to have wide swings in emotion daily), but it affected me anyway. I knew that it had, so I pursued my usual techniques of shaking off the bad day (moaning to friends, thinking of words of wisdom, and visiting Cute Overload, taking a moment of quiet meditation).

And in the end, what caused the strife in the first place was what offered me a salve: another class, more students. How glad I am that the Medieval Texts on Film class ends my day. The students are mostly motivated, not captive. They have some tolerance for my eccentricities (i.e. getting off topic, talking about obscure films and comics) and are genuinely looking forward to the Beowulf film if only to have a go at it.

So I got to talk about Chaucer -- who's always amusing (what a great dinner guest he would have been) -- and the Knight's tale and a little Boethius. Using the term "hoisted by his own petard" and finding them unfamiliar with the phrase, we went off on a tangent to explain that and running off on another tangent, explaining both schadenfreude and, consequently, Jeffrey Archer's prison term. I love talking about words, so I was in my element. Besides, our film for the day (the BBC version of the Knight's Tale) gave me a chance at the end to say that I particularly enjoyed it because I had so many times used the line, "You're only saying that because you're covered in petrol."

A lie, of course -- but that's what humor's about. Stories (little lies, big lies) that make you laugh. That's writing in a nutshell: telling convincing lies. Do I tell my students that? Sometimes, sometimes; on a good day -- like today ended up being -- I just might.

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