Monday, February 13, 2012

On the first day of school, with a preface.

To understand the magnitude of what I am about to share, you must first know a few things. First, you must know that when it comes to school, I am eager, but reticent: I talk very rarely in my classes, and when I do it generally takes every ounce of my courage. In some classes, this is not as true as in others (for instance in my last year's Levinas class, I contributed vocally almost every day), but it is generally true. And it was definitely true in another class I took last year, with a professor named Dalferth. He becomes important to this story. Second, you must know that I only spoke to this professor one time, during that one semester. It was on the day that I gave my presentation. He thanked me for it, and told me I did a good job. I muttered, "Thank you," quietly, and that was that. There was a farewell party for Richard Bushman that this professor was at, and that I was at, and Spencer encouraged me to talk to him. I couldn't do it. I was too nervous. So instead, Spencer talked to him. I think to show me it could be done. The third thing you must know is that I got married somewhat recently and moved to Europe sometime recently, before moving back.

When a friend first heard that I was going, she was thrilled, because she would be Europe too, in Zurich, Switzerland. And who would she be writing her dissertation under? None other but Ingolf Dalferth. This friend suggested that I see if he would do an independent study with me, where I do most of the work by myself, but meet with him very occasionally. Even penning this request took courage for me, but I did it. And he wrote back quickly: a yes. He then asked what I would like to do it on, and I answered: Kierkegaard. I would like to do it on Kierkegaard. Specifically I desired to do it on Kierkegaard, the woman he was famously engaged and unengaged to, his notion of sacrifice, and the way the woman is weaved into every one of his texts. I told Dalferth my interest, and he wrote back with a reading list. I saw him exactly one time, in Zurich. A lunch meeting in a too loud restaurant, and then in his office on the same day. I was required to write a single paper. The length and specifics were never discussed. It ended up being 40 pages, and was on the exact things I wanted it to be on, making it more biographical than philosophical, but nevertheless pleasing to me. (In fact, probably very pleasing to me, because it was the exact paper I have always wanted to read.) In Dalferth's comments back, he also noted the biographical slant, but graded in such a way that the paper seemed to still be somewhat pleasing to him. End preface.

On the first day of school I called my mom as I walked to class. And I got there early. And I sat in the very back of the seminar room/table for computer plug access. Dalferth walked in right at 9:00 am, when class was to begin. He sat down, and looked around. He looked at many students, before he noticed me. When he did: a big smile, and the words, "Ah, hello Rachel! Back from Europe?" To which I said, "Yes. And you!" (also with a smile). "Yes. Are you jet lagged?" "A little bit." "Well, take a nap." With that, class began. That already felt like one hundred successes, because it magnified in one day what I previously said to him in an entire semester. But it gets better. A lot better.

The first part of class was on two possible ways of interpreting text. The first is to look at the author's life, as well as their other writings, and to look at the present text in the context of both of those things. The second is to look at the topic of the text, and the topic's context. This includes everything that has ever been written on it, going back to the past, and what could ever be written on it, going forward to the future. He pointed out that the philosopher at hand (the very Kierkegaard I studied in Europe), particularly lends himself to be looked at biographically, and as such, he would begin by talking about him historically. He then gave me one of the best compliments I have received, ever, by saying, "If I forget anything, I will ask Rachel, because she knows everything there is to know about Kierkegaard's life." Another big smile.

He started with Kierkegaard's birth, and city, and sad but close relation with his father and the way that particular relation influenced his relationship with God, before he brought up Regine Olsen--the woman I wrote about. At this point Dalferth really did turn the time over to me, asking me to tell the class about their relationship. I did so, for several minutes, and then again, after a fellow student asked a question that he also referred to me. I was nervous as I spoke, but I spoke. And my classmates listened, typing or scribbling notes furiously. During the break several approached me, asking me additional questions. It was a wonderful start to a semester, and quite possibly the best moment of my academic career up to this point. I loved sharing my knowledge and my passion, and having the opportunity and trust to do so. In many ways it is a shame that it took me moving to Europe to talk to my professor, but I am so thankful that it happened.

9 comments:

NatAttack said...

!!!!!!
FANTASTIC
!!!!!!

the narrator said...

Dalferth is something amazing, isn't he?

Thirdmango said...

That is one of the coolest school stories I've ever heard. Congrats buddy.

Merinmel Caesg said...

This story brought me smiles and laughter. It's so intimidating as I (very slowly) start to craft my education into what I always wanted it to be. Thanks for sharing your story. Also, congratulations!

Elisse Newey said...

!!! great story. I shake all over every time I raise my hand. Even in sunday school. Congrats on the lovely compliments!

Cumorah said...

This will be the year of Rachel. Watch and see people. Watch and see.

meg said...

I happily applaud those who finally recognize and accept you in your rightful academic arena. I am pleased to hear of moments like these - I have likewise found these types of moments precious and, although they may be few and far between, they are so very VALIDATING!

an illdressed foolishwise said...

i want to be you when i grow up.

Rachel Hunt said...

Bless you, friends!!

And yes, Dalferth is amazing. I wish I could take every class I take from him. Except you know, for Gendering Mormonism with Patrick. That is also pretty amazing.