Faculty parties are excruciating experiences—bad food and worse conversation. It has been many decades since American professors were scholars or scientists who could take an intelligent interest in a wide range of subjects, but they doggedly persist in repeating the opinions they have picked up like so much lint.
Younger professors are perhaps the worst offenders. Many of them would rather talk sports or retell what they watched on television the night before, but they often feel compelled to talk for effect, which is really the last thing in the world they will ever be able to do. I remember bits of an informal party given by my professor, Douglas Young, to honor a visiting French Hellenist. Graduate students and younger faculty members, giving vent to their deepest feelings, were analyzing an episode of Mannix, when Young, quite exasperated, blurted out, “Speaking of Aeschylus . . . ” To which the department’s future chairman responded, “But Douglas, we weren’t speaking of Aeschylus.”
“Yes, but I want to be speaking of Aeschylus.”
Off to a bad start, the conversation turned to more serious questions, stranding the Mannix-watchers almost in mid-sentence. In the course of the discussion, Young expressed forceful opinions on subjects as varied as Greek lyric meters and the dissolution of the Labour Party. ...