How to Actually Make A Seminar Not Boring...and Other Tidbits of Quirky Scholasticism
Generally the way these things go is that you have the begrudging English student peon conform to seminar standards. He or she talks in a high, absract language using big words like "quintessential"(sp?) or "solipsism". (I was pretty proud of my self, I used the word, "porcine" numerous times.) But it becomes evident as a part of the audience, for the doors are opened wide for those few individuals who are curious about T.S. Eliot's usage of sea metaphors in his work,...but it becomes apparant to the majority of the audience that everything that the poor peon student is up there speaking about is completely...yawn...goodness, I can't even finish the sentence without feeling its influence. In fact, it's been noted the more boring your seminar paper is the better grade you receive.
The common presentation runs like this. Poor Peon Student gets up in front of the entire English faculty and some other students, addresses the crowd telling why he or she chose such a topic. Then he or she commences, "Blah, Blah, Blah, blah, blah, Blah, blah, Bla-blah, Blah, Bla-ah, bla-Blah, Blahh. Occassionally, an interesting word or phrase would be thrown in like "penis envy" or "they made amorous love in a chair" (that last one was actually said today). Such phrases call the audience out of the daydream delirium that they're in. But then as soon as the phrase is pronounced, the speaker is back to the blah, blah, blahing, and the audience is back to their daydreams. At the end of the paper certain professors ask the Poor Peon Student intelligent questions. The funny thing, is that most of the time these questions are staged. The Poor Peon Student knows what he is going to be asked a day or two in advance. Occassionally, an unrehearsed question is fired, but for the most part nothing unexpected ever happens in these seminars, that is...until today.
Yesterday I walk into my advisor professor's office after turning my paper in, and exclaim to him that "We have a huge crisis on our hands!" He, worrying about the pupil under his tutelage, gets curious. I respond that upon reading the first 2 pages of my paper it hit me how incredibly boring it all was. He shook his grey head. After years of seminars and MLA formats he had forgotten the exact definition of "boring".
Last night while the other 3 students were fretting and practicing the reading of their papers, I was sneaking inside the Theatre Department's closet looking for a pair of pen-striped pants to go with what's left of my pen-striped leisure suit. (The pants ripped almost 3 years ago; I've never really gotten over it)But I had to make my appearance complete. It is also amazing the confidence boost one can experience when wearing a leisure suit. I got the pants and ran out.
Then my time came. Yeah, I was a little nervous. I had done my homework. The props were set. I was looking good in my leisure suit. But, I must admit, had I been in the audience at the time of my presentation, i would have been daydreaming also. Then the questions came. Instead of my advisor professor asking me the question that he had told me of, a curve ball was thrown. Another professor of mine, immediately speaks up, the same professor who earlier that told me that he wasn't going to ask me any questions. He speaks up and drills me with a very good question. But I'm a quick draw and I fire back very effectively. Then he shoots another gun at me...at which I draw also very smoothly and also accurately. I must admit that I can have a great strength at improvisation. But as soon as I dodged his bullets of intellectualism. I had a few of my own cards up my sleeve just waiting to be shown. The head professor then opens the floor for anyone to drill me. 9 times out of 10 the audience is silent, especially when you do a less known work like I did. But I had my props out there. And one of my friends, Josh, who had straighetened his hair and dressed up like a nerd, raised his hand...to the surprise of most. And spoke in a very nasally voice...what seemed to be a complete assault upon me with a difficult question. Well, of course I knew the answer. I was the one who made up the question the night before. So I rambled off the answer refering to other authors and actually citing quotations from my memory. Half of being brilliant is appearing brilliant.
But that was not enough. I had to go further. I didn't want them just to admire my brain. I wanted to make them laugh. So I got my humorous friend, Jonathan Towell, to ask the next question. (2 questions from students; this had to be a record breaking event for the participation of the students). He blah-blah-ed on for the first part of the question and then he basically asked me if the protagonist of this novel was a Seinfield character which Seinfield character would he be and why. Such an absurd question as this has never been pronounced in such circumstances, surrounded by so many professors and wanna-be professors. You could hear a slight gasp or laugh right when the name, "Seinfield" was uttered. All eyes, then, fell upon me wondering how in the world I would respond to that. The majority of students perked themselves out of their sleep actually hearing something that spoke to them.
"That's a good question" I smiled and next I shot my cannons. "Well, I believe that Henderson just may fit into a large portion of the cast of Seinfield, minus Elaine. He definitely has anger issues of a George Castanza, but taking his whining, penetrating intellectualism there's a bit of a Jerry Seinfeild there. However, Henderson is definitely an eccentric, he comes and goes as he pleases. There's some Kramer within him. But I believe when you get right down to it, taking his porcine body and his apparent loopiness,....Henderson....is Newman."
This answer was followed by the audience erupting in laughter. A comment was made about this all obviously being staged. Friends of mine watching other people's reactions said they saw the dean of the English department holding his big, round belly and chuckling merrily. And another professor having his head tucked into one of his arms on the desk, slapping the desk heartily. As I walked to sit down, my advisor professor looked at me with rather critical eyes that spoke, "No, you didn't". I asked, inquisitively, "Was that allowed?"
After the entire seminar, I apologized to my advisor professor as he smiled and told me that I did a good job. I told him that I wanted to lighten up the room a bit. He told me that I certainly did that. And that I made the biggest burst of laughter in the history of the English seminars at Harding. I don't know if that's an actual hard thing to do, but such a comment made me feel very good.