William Deresiewicz has written in the American Scholar the best article, which I have read in a long time about Love or rather sex on college’s campus. He argues that sexual, erotic intensity on campus among professor and students should not only be tolerated, but encouraged. I agree with him wholeheartedly because I share his view that the teacher and student relationship is so disturbing within American culture that it is infantilized or rather sexualized in a vain attempt to eradicate the key fact that teaching is about awakenning desires and that there is a key difference between erotic intensity and inappropriate sexual behavior. Sugary excerpt:
If there’s one god our culture worships as piously as sex, it’s children. But sex and children, sexual intimacy and familial intimacy, have something in common — beyond the fact that one leads to the other: both belong to us as creatures of nature, not as creators in culture. […] Teaching, as Neil Postman says, is a subversive activity — all the more so today, when children are marinated in cultural messages from the moment they’re born. It no longer takes any training to learn to bow to your city’s gods (sex or children, money or nation). But it often takes a teacher to help you question those gods. The teacher’s job, in Keats’s terms, is to point you through the vale of soul-making. We’re born once, into nature and into the culture that quickly becomes a second nature. But then, if we’re granted such grace, we’re born again. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his mortal soul?
This is the kind of sex professors are having with their students behind closed doors: brain sex. And this is why we put up with the mediocre pay and the cultural contempt, not to mention the myriad indignities of graduate school and the tenure process. […] Teaching, finally, is about relationships. It is mentorship, not instruction. Socrates also says that the bond between teacher and student lasts a lifetime, even when the two are no longer together. And so it is. Student succeeds student, and I know that even the ones I’m closest to now will soon become names in my address book and then just distant memories. But the feelings we have for the teachers or students who have meant the most to us, like those we have for long-lost friends, never go away. They are part of us, and the briefest thought revives them, and we know that in some heaven we will all meet again.
The truth is that these possibilities are not quite as alien to American culture as I’ve been making out. Along with the new stereotype that’s dominated the portrayal of academics in film and fiction in recent years has come, far less frequently, a different image of what a college teacher can be and mean, exactly along the lines I’ve been tracing. It is there in Julia Roberts’s character in Mona Lisa Smile, in the blind professor who teaches Cameron Diaz’s character to love poetry in In Her Shoes, and most obviously, in Tuesdays with Morrie, that gargantuan cultural phenomenon. Robin Williams offered a scholastic version in Dead Poets Society. But we seem to need to keep the idea, or at least the person who embodies it, at a safe distance. Both Mona Lisa Smile and Dead Poets Society take place in the 1950s and at single-sex schools. Cameron Diaz’s mentor and Morrie Schwartz are retired and dying. The Socratic relationship is so profoundly disturbing to our culture that it must be defused before it can be approached. Yet many thousands of kids go off to college every year hoping, at least dimly, to experience it. It has become a kind of suppressed cultural memory, a haunting imaginative possibility. In our sex-stupefied, anti-intellectual culture, the eros of souls has become the love that dares not speak its name.
Deresiewicz is absolutely right. The best teachers I’ve had were those who made me desire something more than a good grade and who were less worried about going through their curriculum than about what I was feeling and seeing. Nowadays sex is so divinized that it is everywhere and that it has become dangerous and this explains why eroticism is disappearing. The difference between sex and eroticism is the difference between Playboy and Lolita. Erotic intensity should be welcome in an Academic setting precisely because it makes us aware that we are not solely sexual beings and that there is a gap between desire and action, which ethics may render unbridgeable. I don’t think that it is possible to learn in a sterilized or rather purified environment where there are no bias, no shortsightedness, no passion, no sex, and no microbes. The less college campuses resemble the real world, the less most unprepared students will be to face for after all in the real world is still a sexualized jungle where women and men flirt, cuddle, battle, and annihilate each other because they couldn’t get their pound of flesh.