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« Blogging Commandments | Main | Rock and Roll May Be Dying, But It Ain't Going Broke (Andrew) »

July 12, 2007


Dear Ruchira Di,
S N Dasgupta - is known to lots of us the private tutorial college on Pusa Road, conducting classes to help students get admission to IITs, Medical Colleges etc. We never knew that he was a part of your ancestors.

Cheers and best wishes

Speaking of "love that dare not speak its name," Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality is good, albeit slightly tangential, background reading for the proposition that the "Socratic relationship between the teacher and the taught" might not always have been as "intense and intellectually erotic" as Deresiewicz claims. Nevertheless, I think he's on to something with his second possible explanation, namely, that screenplay writers and novelists are envious of humanities scholars. I suspect the same goes for movie producers and directors, perhaps more so, inasmuch as they are the ones more likely to exploit the subtle insinuations of the work of their writers. (Remember: the movie version of the book is so often unsatisfying.)

With hierarchy he wants it both ways. On the one hand, high culture has been "dethroned," but on the other "universities are playing an ever-more conspicuous role in creating the larger social hierarchy that no one acknowledges but everyone wants to climb." I think he's more correct about the latter than the former. The only democratic consequence of his account of history is that, now, we're all elitists. Popular culture is ranked as ubiquitously as the loftier sort. The two sorts are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable.

Two more reading suggestions: of course, Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse, which will help the good professor at Yale understand the dynamic of power impelling the situations he describes; and James Kincaid's amusing Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting, which extends his remarks on our (largely failed) mass media negotiations of our competing devotions to children and sex.

Also of interest will be this piece by Cristina Nehring from 2001, where she talks of getting investigated by the UCLA administration while a grad student and having a fling with a professor in a different department. The student and teacher ended up marrying, and so she comes out for student-teacher eros. However, she cherry-picks her examples -- there are certainly plenty of opportunistic profs hitting on emotionally-immature 18 year olds also, in addition to the inspiring Socrates breeding a love of learning with their beautiful minds and vintage bodies.

"....which will help the good professor at Yale understand the dynamic of power impelling the situations he describes;" Dean

"..there are certainly plenty of opportunistic profs hitting on emotionally-immature 18 year olds also, in addition to the inspiring Socrates breeding a love of learning with their beautiful minds and vintage bodies": Andrew

That is the crux of the matter. Every good high school and college teacher worth his /her salt will tell you that there is a very fine line to traverse in a student-teacher relationship. Pedagogical intensity is all for the good, especially in a class room setting. But one on one interactions must be hands off, open doors and a bit stern, if possible.

I know a few people who like Christina Nehring, married their professors. All the couples were close in their chronological age and all of them were first marriages for both partners. And sure enough, in each case the prof was the male and the student female. The only real case of the Socratic method carrying over into a marital relationship that I know of, is that of my great aunt Surama. I am not sure but I think she was closer in age to Dasgupta's daughter Maitreyi Devi, Mircea Eliade's object of affection, than to her spouse.

Although Dean pokes several holes in Deresiewicz's arguments, I always find it interesting when academics step out of the ivory tower and attempt to connect with the culture outside.

I came across this fascinating essay on the Eliade-Maitreyi affair, which definitely sheds more light on the decades old story and its follow-up in the 1970's and '80's.
So much for Eliade's portraying a mysterious and seductive Orient, pushing his novel into the limelight at the cost of the truth, and just as well that Maitreyi shot into fame with her counter-novel.

Thanks for the excellent link, Sujatha. I agree with Ginu Kamani not so much on what may or may not have motivated Maitreyi Devi, but certainly on her take on Eliade.

I hadn't read Eliade's book in India - it was published in English only recently. But I had heard about it. One of my favorite polyglot Bengali authors, who had read it in French, termed it bordering on pornography (this author was no prude). When the University of Chicago Press published the books as companion volumes, I purchased both. I didn't re-read the female version because I had read it in Bengali and remembered well its contents. But I did read Eliade's. It is a very lurid tale - highly fantastic and exoticized. Although most of the Amazon reviews gush over it, I found the book annoying and clearly a figment of the fevered imagination of a man who came to India to find magic and the improbable love /sex as described in the Kamasutra. No wonder Maitreyi Devi felt compelled to set the record straight nearly four decades later. Hers is a much more believable story. If anyone is planning to read the books, read his as a fantasy and hers as autobiographical.

It was very interesting reading your blog entry. My grandparents (Lt Col SD Gupta & Madhuri Gupta) and grandaunt (Mira Dattagupta) knew Surama Dasgupta (Surama amma, my sister & I called her) very well and we've visited her at Madhupur and she's visited my grandparents at their home in Kolkata. After my grandmother passed away in around 1995, my father and me visited Madhupur and spent many hours with Surama amma who was then ailing and mostly in bed. But I will always remember her as one of the most intellectual and inspiring women that I've met in my life.

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