Sunday, November 08, 2009

Shichinin no Samurai

Every good fortress needs a weak point...The enemy must be invited in, so that we may attack them...

-- Kambei Shimada

Tots, I'm getting old. I can feel it. I can feel the calcification happening, in my bones, in my mind. God, it frightens me. I try to fight it at every turn but sometimes it feels like oldness is like water running downhill. Like its inevitable. I have two examples to speak of: one pressing and one not so much. My pressing example is in this class I'm taking, this lab course in physiology. Needless to say, I thought I was going to do sparklingly well in the course - in the associated physiology lecture course I got a high B mark without really even trying - and thusfar, I'm far from sparkling. I've gotten some shockingly bad marks, and the drop date has come and gone and now I'm stuck trying to salvage a wreck of a course. But what bothers me most is not the mark, or the curious and subjective evaluation scheme, or how much I think I know about the subject that isn't reflected in my marks. What I'm having a really hard time with is this idea that I should have to go and beg for an answer. That I have to go to my TA and ask her why I'm getting these bad marks. I genuinely feel that it's beneath me, that I'm too old to be treated like this. If I do something wrong, explain what I did wrong and I'll do it right. Why should I have to go and beg for criticism?

What is young and pragmatic in me knows the answer: it's my mark and my future and my ass at stake so I have to jump through whatever hoops they put in front of me. But what is old and ornery is sitting there in his chair jabbering on about what exactly I'm learning from this exercise in I learning physiology or am I learning to give my evaluators what they want? Am I learning what I need to know, or am I making it easy for them to go through the forty or so papers they have to mark? How concerned should I be with what my TA thinks of me when I don't particularly think highly of them?

Thinking old is so dangerous. It's right on the border of complete apathy. It is to be swayed by nothing, to be filled with the cold certainty of righteous indignation. It is to be frozen, immovable, rigid and sclerotic. I don't want to be that, but I can feel that smug sense of self-satisfied superiority rearing its head at every turn, and I have to constantly bite my tongue.

Obviously getting good marks is a pressing concern. But I see the oldness in other things as well, less important than school, but at the same time more important because school is not real life and life is going to be with me longer than this mark I end up with in this physiology lab. I was reading some peoples comments on Seven Samurai on IMDB and, invariably, there were a small minority of posts that said, in effect, that Kurosawa's masterpiece was middling, average, uninspired, this and that, all sorts of different adjectives that can be summed up with the word mediocre. And I could feel the bile rising in my gullet. Before I even realized what I was doing I was registering on the IMDB boards to set the record straight with these knuckleheads. And after a few frustrated moments of being thwarted in my efforts to respond by a very unintuitive message board system, I asked myself 'Why?'

Why do I suddenly feel an overwhelming need to be right? When did that happen? Why am I not okay with someone not liking Seven Samurai? Why does an honestly expressed opinion suddenly anger me? When did I become like every other person in the world, incapable of just listening and instead merely waiting for my chance to speak?

I was going to spend a half hour or so writing a response to their opinion that more or less has already been written by a million lovers of that movie, perhaps none more notable than Roger Ebert himself. If someone really wanted to know what kind of a moron they are, and the bazillions of cultural, social, thematic, historic and cinematic details they missed watching a 200 minute movie, they don't need to hear it from me. If I have, as I have, already dismissed such a person as a moron, what good could come from arguing with such a person? Do I think they'll learn the errors of their ways and thank me? Do I want an idiot's thanks? Why doesn't it satisfy me?...the knowledge that I can see elements in the work that were meant to be seen that others are unable to see. Why isn't that enough?

Arguing myself out of improving my marks or into a fight with a stranger boils down to a simple, and very human need for vindication - a sense that I know what I'm talking about and that others should know that I know and confirm that I know. Remarkably, this behavior is both incredibly childish and incredibly cantankerous and particularly appalling to me because I've always felt that if there was any strength or quality admirable in me it was, as Socrates would say, that I know how little I know. Once a man, twice a child -- that's how the saying goes. But honestly, I was hoping to be an actual grown-up for a little while longer.


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