things of little relevance


Modern Love
March 14, 2010, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The recent Sunday Styles “Modern Love” columns have been disappointing. Not disappointing in the sense that they aren’t enjoyable, quite a few of them have been really heartfelt and well-written, but I miss the crazy ones, the ones in which the woman pretends she has a reporting gig in Asia so she can follow some guy she just met. Right.

Tony Judt, who has been writing these incredible essay for the New York Review of Books about his upbringing and coming of age, provides his take on the forever taboo professor-student relationship. The essay was a nice substitute for another subpar/earnest Modern Love.

In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.

Shortly after I took office, a second-year graduate student came by. A former professional ballerina interested in Eastern Europe, she had been encouraged to work with me. I was not teaching that semester, so could have advised her to return another time. Instead, I invited her in. After a closed-door discussion of Hungarian economic reforms, I suggested a course of independent study—beginning the following evening at a local restaurant. A few sessions later, in a fit of bravado, I invited her to the premiere of Oleanna—David Mamet’s lame dramatization of sexual harassment on a college campus.

How to explain such self-destructive behavior? What delusional universe was mine, to suppose that I alone could pass untouched by the punitive prudery of the hour—that the bell of sexual correctness would not toll for me? I knew my Foucault as well as anyone and was familiar with Firestone, Millett, Brownmiller, Faludi, e tutte quante. To say that the girl had irresistible eyes and that my intentions were…unclear would avail me nothing. My excuse? Please Sir, I’m from the ’60s.

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