The American Scholar
During the interview process, he dazzled everyone in the department. He made playful associations between the novels of Edith Wharton and the social theory of Thorstein Veblen, between Jean Toomer and hip-hop.
He said: My philosophy is that if Lil Yachty doesn’t talk about it, it didn’t happen.
No one knew if he was serious or not, and most of them didn’t know who Lil Yachty was. But they liked the sound of it: it was knowing, bright. He was freewheeling and spirited.
He taught a sample class to a group of undergrads, and granted it was mostly him talking, but it impressed them nonetheless. He was instantly at ease, even under observation. Everything he said was very provocative; he riffed on the relationship between West Indian music and punk rock. He talked at length and in detail about the cover of Joe Gibbs’ State of Emergency album, claimed instrumental music could be political, and then airplayed a 7-Up commercial from the 1980s to warn his audience about the dangers of co-opting. Everyone who listened left the room inspired, they felt like they’d learned something. Never mind that the class he was supposed to be teaching was on the Victorian novel.
Even his hair seemed to bespeak a charged mental state: it shot out in all directions from his head. His clothes were rumpled in a way that suggested attitude rather than carelessness. He was handsome in a scrawny, off-kilter sort of way. Everything about him seemed wiry and spontaneous, and for a little while they were reminded that this was what intellectualism was supposed to be about: ideas that were alive and electric, like a power line that had snapped in two and was writhing around on the pavement, shooting out sparks, but in retrospect they realized that there was something a little disingenuous about it all that they had failed to detect.
Immediately after his hire, he published an article chronicling the feud between The Clash and Van Halen, concluding ultimately that it was acceptable to listen to and enjoy both bands, though only The Clash could be validated as having a moral and political conscience that was salutary. Van Halen was too caught up in what color their M&Ms were, while Joe Strummer employed Marxian dialectics to effectively rabble-rouse with the masses. No music was value-free, he claimed, and, Thoreau-like, one could not escape the consequences of what one, Veblen-like, conspicuously consumed. There was a lot of name-dropping in the essay, but no one who read the essay could walk away from it feeling that The Clash was not morally superior to Van Halen.
The promised book, however, failed to materialize, and some students complained that a class that was supposed to be about the twentieth-century political novel devolved into repetitive discussions of the concept of musical miscegenation and viewings of American blues singers performing with white musicians on YouTube clips culled from 1960s television broadcasts.
He was too arrogant, some said in their evaluations. He didn’t listen to them.
He took months to grade their papers.
Meanwhile, he got married to a grad student. They had a boy. Two years later, she left him, took the boy.
Ultimately, he had sexual harassment charges filed against him by one of his students, a twenty-year-old.
After that, he simply stopped showing up for classes.
It wasn’t easy to fire someone, even if they weren’t tenured. It didn’t matter, though, because the members of the department soon found out, via Twitter, that he was now working at a used book store in LA.
Doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there, he tweeted, #vanhalen. He then posted a link to the YouTube video of Van Halen covering the Martha and the Vandellas classic “Dancing in the Street,” #musicalmiscegenation.
Apparently, they learned from another tweet, he was about to take on a position as a craft brewer’s apprentice. He wanted something that was #authentic, he said.