“He should be a great philosopher like Confusion.”

This is one of those sentences that look on the surface like fairly silly mistakes but on further thought seem poignant, a cri de coeur.

One of my current students is writing about Confucian thought, and having no trouble with the ideas or the spelling.

But the author of today’s Horror clearly has the name wrong and possibly doesn’t have a much better grasp of the philosophy. (I’m not going to think about SpellCheck here, because the sentence comes from my 1978 Book of Horrors, and nobody was writing with computers back then.)

When I was in college, students had a choice in what we used to call “The Distribution Requirements” (now, for most people, “The Core”—think apples? Pilates? Yeats?) between a course in Comparative Religion and Philosophy 101. I was a good, fast typist in those days (although I had to look at the keyboard, which meant my method was to quick-memorize a sentence, type it, then memorize the next, usw.), and I typed papers for fellow students: my rate was 25¢ a page, unless I found the topic interesting, in which case I didn’t charge at all. I learned a lot from my colleagues that way. But one unexpected lesson was that the language of philosophy was heavily laden with abstractions, and both the student writers and the philosophers they quoted were difficult to follow. This inspired me to choose, when the time came for me to attend to that particular Distribution choice, Comparative Religion. At least I could envision the gods and their stories.

Thus I am sympathetic with any student who refers to a philosopher as “Confusion.” Perhaps in his youth there was no comic meme that began “Confucius says,” which would have taught him at least that the name ends in “s,” not “n.”

I think when he typed “Confusion,” it was more than a spelling error, though. I think his unconscious mind was taking that opportunity to cry aloud his frustration with ideas and philosophies and concepts that he had to struggle to understand, even when the struggle failed to win the victory.

I have no idea what “he” is referred to in my student’s sentence. Perhaps the student himself doesn’t feel confused but is making a jest about somebody who is. But somehow this doesn’t seem like a conscious jest; it seems like a sincere statement that says more than it knows.

The semester is drawing to a close, and soon I will be computing final grades. Although I will do my best to let the grade represent the quality of the work, I will also try to keep my compassion alive. And my sense of humor.

Let there be no confusion! Thanks to http://etc.usf.edu/clipart for the image!

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““He should be a great philosopher like Confusion.”

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