A few weeks ago, I went to see "The Visitor" with my friend J. If you haven't seen it, it's a good, if predictable, film about immigration in the U.S, or, to use a term of Burke's that I like, about the bureaucratization of the imaginative. The main character, Walter Vale, is played by Richard Jenkins, who played the dead dad on Six Feet Under. Jenkins makes the short leap to playing dead wood here, starring as a burnt-out economics professor at a liberal arts school (Connecticut College) who holds a degree from--this got some laughs in the theater I was in--the University of Illinois. Vale is currently on a one-course load, with a reduction to work on his nonexistent book, and he's teaching the large lecture course he claims to have taught every year for twenty years. The filmmakers, in order to establish how burnt out he is so that they can move on to the real substance of the film, which takes place in Manhattan, show him "updating" his syllabus with a little bottle of white out, listlessly blotting out the "6" in 2006, presumably to replace it with a "7." But everyone who has updated a syllabus knows this wouldn't work; the dates would be all screwy.
Walter Vale and his white out are on my mind this afternoon as I set about updating a syllabus of my own. Mind you, only twice have I been able to repeat the same course, so I'm no Walter Vale, but it is so much easier to update a syllabus than it is to create one anew. It's also fun. I get to relive meetings that went well and revise those that did not. This is a graduate seminar on Aristotle's Rhetoric that I have blogged about here before. Indeed, a couple of photographs from that class were in blogos's second post ever. Aw.
What else is fun about updating? On the more brainy side, there's the opportunity to search and read new stuff that has been published since I last taught the class. And on the more mundane side, I bet I'm not alone in taking perverse pleasure in the mere act of consulting the university's academic calendar to see when classes will begin this fall, when Thanksgiving lands, and when it's all over. Somehow distilling a course down to fifteen days and a few pages makes it all seem entirely doable. But I have also always liked calendars and schedules--they appeal to my big-picture side, the side that needs to know what needs to be accomplished and what will be happening in the coming months.
And the fact that I'm not even a little bit sad to be returning to teaching after a sabbatical? This tells me I'm in the right profession and will hopefully never find myself as despondent about my job as the white-out wielding Walter Vale.