Special Topics in Calamity Physics

I’m serious. Is there anything more glorious than a professor? Forget about his molding the minds, the future of a nation–a dubious assertion; there’s little you can do when they tend to emerge from the womb predestined for Grant Theft Auto Vice City. No. What I mean is, a professor is the only person on earth with the power to put a veritable frame around life–not the whole thing, God no–simply a fragment of it, a small wedge. He organizes the unorganizable. Nimbly partitions it into modern and postmodern, renaissance, baroque, primitivism, imperialism and so on. Splice that up with Research Papers, Vacation, Midterms. All that order–simply divine. The symmetry of a semester course. Consider the words themselves: the seminar, the tutorial, the advanced whatever workshop accessible only to seniors, to graduate fellows, to doctoral candidates, the practicum–what a marvelous word: practicum! You think me crazy. Consider a Kandinsky. Utterly muddled, put a frame around it, voila–looks rather quaint above the fireplace. And so it is with the curriculum. That celestial, sweet set of instructions, culminating in the scary wonder of the Final Exam. And what is the Final Exam? A test of one’s deepest understanding of giant concepts.  No wonder so many adults long to return to university, to all those deadlines–ahhh, that structure! Scaffolding to which we may cling! Even if it is arbitrary, without it, we’re lost, wholly incapable of separating the Romantic from the Victorian in our sad, bewildering lives . . .

The above excerpt is from the delightful coming-of-age/who-dunnit novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl (pages 11-12). The table of contents actually says “Core Curriculum” and is organized like a syllabus. This novel has as many references as any good work of scholarship, but unlike a good work of scholarships, they inspire laughter. Plus, how awesome is the title?

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2 responses to “Special Topics in Calamity Physics

  1. This is awesome! I love this novel, and revisiting this passage is quite thought-provoking. And it makes me smile ;)

    Your past few posts, including this one, really make me want to recommend the book “Flow, the psychology of optimal experience” to you. The main idea of the book is that when we’re over-challenged, we’re anxious; when we’re under-challenged, we’re bored. When we’re challenged just the right amount, we are focused, absorbed, and so happy. Because challenge helps us *order our consciousness*.

    Just like a professor and a curriculum….

  2. becomingdoctorjones

    Sounds very interesting! It’s now on my reading list.

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