07 October 2009

First Days

Today was my first day of supervisions. I had three Practical Criticism supervisions and one individual Study Skills session.

I'd forgotten about first days and the way they exhaust you. It isn't the labour of them, I think (this one was not particularly laborious), it's the mental adjustment: you're assessing, and sorting things out, and ordering your life, and that's tiring. Plus, I dressed to teach, as I usually do, and that meant wearing heels. It's been almost a year since I wore heels to work, or really at all off the dance floor, and I forgot how that feels: again not laborious, but not particularly pleasant. (you will ask me why I wear them, if it's not pleasant, and the answer is that I wear them to look powerful. It's not that I believe added height makes me powerful [although it doesn't hurt], but in a situation where most people are dressed casually and one person is wearing heels, the person in heels looks more powerful.)

I loved dressing up, of course.

My last two sessions of the day took place at the college where I'm SSC, also the college where I supervised my slacker boy last year. He was in his last year, so imagine my surprise when I looked up upon first arriving at the college today, and there he was. We were equally delighted to see each other. Being (a) desperate, and (b) no longer his supervisor, I thought to myself, Hmm...perhaps I could be in with a shot here. But no! He was visiting his girlfriend, to whom he introduced me. A delightful girl.

For all the prac crit supervisions I did today, I used the same two texts, an extract from David Copperfield and a very brief poem by Keats (a fragment, really), "This Living Hand." I found the sessions very interesting, not so much because of the analysis as because of the behaviour of the participants. The first group was all girls, all earnest, focussed, talkative, and insightful. The second group was three girls and one boy, all equally as insightful and focussed, largely talkative, and rather more lively than group one (which may have had as much to do with the fact that it was 11am rather than 10am as with any personality attributes). The third group was three boys, and dragging insights out of them was if not precisely like then deeply reminiscent of getting blood from a stone. Eee...eee...eee (that's the sound of an unoiled handle turning). They had terrible trouble coming up with observations, and many of those they did come up with were weak. One of them is rather cleverer than the rest, but I still found myself thinking during the supervision that I might have to do a lot of work with them. In any case, I was gender surprised: I'd expected the boys to be bumptious and talkative, but quite the reverse.

Undoubtedly the most disconcerting moment of the day was when one of the last boys responded to "This Living Hand":

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
That in my veins red life might stream again
And thou be conscience-calmed -- see here it is --
I hold it towards you.

"Well," he said, "It's very tender, the way he describes to her what his hand will be like and contrasts it with what it is now, then offers it to her so she can take it while it's still warm." Oh, dear. Um... Fortunately, one of the others said, in the perfect structure, "But isn't it just the opposite? He's making it repulsive, then offering it to her." Still, it's a bit of a worry for his future interpretations.

I love "This Living Hand," and I find it a fascinating piece of work. No one wants to take that hand, but the way he achieves that repulsion is very hard to explain - there's no neat way either to say or to parse how he takes something alive, makes it dead, then revivifies it and presents it to you. And it's clear (yes, I will use that word) that he wants to repulse the addressee, but why? What's he trying to prove? Curiouser and curiouser.

No comments: