Some years ago I taught a course called Fragmentary Signatures: Baroque Manifestations in Postmodern Literature. I was intent on tracing some theological thought in Caravaggio, Poussin, and the like, and see how some of the visual visions of these painters come to expression in poststructuralist critical discourse that is both fictional and academic at the same time. “Jolly good,” I said to myself, while my husband showed his skepticism. Upon seeing my course description, he went: “jolly good, nobody will attend this class; you’re using key words describing the topic with too many syllables in them, so students will dismiss it on account of that alone.” But, “jolly good,” a third time around. While my husband’s prediction almost came true, I did have the privilege to run the class with ten students in it – all foreigners, however; no Danes, alas. I said to myself on account of the missing ones: “their loss,” and for the ones present, I used these welcoming words: “small group, but fucking select.”
As it turned out, the whole affair was select. The reason for it was also because most of the people attending the course were rather special. In particular, one of them. He was a Canadian, a student of comparative religion at his home university, and the owner of several ships and yachts. He was 21 at the time. He loved the texts on the curriculum, he got everything I said, and he would catch my most brazen ideas in their flight. He also never shied away from showing his growing irritation whenever someone else in class would pose a question that demanded elaboration on something that, at least to him, seemed perfectly clear already. He would often end his exposition to the others with these words: “I really don’t understand why we have to waste time going through such and such. What is wrong with you all?” I must have to say that he often formulated what was sometimes also my very thought. Yet, as it goes with such attitudes, he ended up being mocked. But he didn’t mind.
After the last session, five British students and my Canadian ambushed me and insisted that we all had beers, British style, at the university’s bar. That turned out to be an interesting session. The Brits thought that they had an occasion to finally bash the Canadian. It started with their asking him, “so, if you’re so smart, and run your own business, what do you need to study religion for? Why not engineering, or some other ship related science?” To this he answered: “well, I’m generally smart, but as I often get bouts of doubt which make me think I’m also really stupid, I hurry to enroll in some class at the university, and then lock myself up a whole month in a room, and read everything that is required for a whole year in the program.” The Brits laughed. I didn’t. On engineering, he claimed in a most nonchalant way that he had learned all that he needed to learn from the encyclopedia. The Brits made a grimace. I didn’t. Then we went on to talk about their assignments, and the Brits made a final attempt to make the Canadian stumble. They asked him: “so, can you also write an interesting paper for Camelia, as she only likes to read something intelligent and edgy?” To this, while dismissing the others, the Canadian turned to me, looked straight into my eyes with a penetrating gaze, and said: “I’ll give you all the jouissance you can take.” I made a bowing gesture. He got it. The Brits, didn’t.
When I went to pick up the assignments, the secretary was concerned. She said, “yes, they’re all here, but, I don’t know what to do about the Canadian. He didn’t hand one in. He delivered a photocopy of a book.” I snatched the batch of papers, without explaining, and got very excited. In class we had been talking about Roland Barthes’s The Pleasure of the Text, A Lover’s Discourse, and the function of paratext and architext for the heightening of emotional thought in reading. I approached the Canadian’s ‘assignment’ with an expectation that was already bordering orgasmic pleasure. As I leafed through the first pages, I could see that what I was leafing through was a book, indeed. It had a title, a publisher, an ISBN number, and a dedication. I leafed through some more, when it hit me. The dedication. I went back. It said: “for Camelia Elias, the most devoted teacher. “Holy shit,” I said to myself, “this guy is enacting the fucking paratext, even to the point of not handing in the ‘original’ version of the book he wrote for me, but a photocopy. Oh, my God!” How can one describe the pleasure in making the realization that one’s student had not only learned the lesson, but also made such an effort to present his assignment in such an original way? As to the quality of the thought? What can I say? It was of the highest caliber. The form followed the fragmentary discourse and the student’s implicit baroquingly postmodern signature was strategically placed sous rature in a most fascinating way. The external examiner, upon grading the paper together with me, wanted to know everything about this person. He kept saying, “oh my God! How often does this happen in a teacher’s life time?” He was infinitely jealous, and wanted to know what I did in class that made students think of such intricate ways of approaching a topic that they thought I would like to read about. I said, “nothing.” The Canadian would say “everything.” As to the jouissance, hell, yes. I got off on that. Long live such texts, and long live dedicating the dedication.