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(photograph by Constance Meath Baker)

Via email I received an invitation to contribute to a memorial tribute to Jeremy Jacobson, of whom I’m fairly certain you’ve never heard, unless you happen to be deeply addicted to the internet. Jeremy was a college teacher of English, and a blogger and twitterer of relentless energy. He died in his late fifties, and in his lifetime wrote a single book: a published version of his doctoral thesis on the incursion of literary critics into American English departments beginning in the 1950s and through the 1980s. Jeremy Jacobson was also, briefly, my student. I didn’t take long to decide that I would not be contributing to his online memorial.

He came in ten or so minutes late, took a seat in the front row, and, looking up eagerly at me, spread out his notebook and made himself at home. The course was on Henry James, with forty or so students, which I taught from 10.30 a.m. to noon, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. First day of class, I hadn’t planned to keep everyone the full ninety minutes. I gave a twenty or so minute talk outlining James’s life and career, passed out copies of the syllabus, wrote my office hours on the board, and ended by remarking that Henry James was a leading figure in my small pantheon of gods. Before dismissing the students, I warned that I planned to do all in my power to convert them to the cult known as Jamesianism. As everyone was beginning to leave, Jeremy raised his hand.

“How, exactly, do you expect us to read these novels?” he asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“I mean,” he said, “from a Marxist or feminist or Derridean perspective, or what?”

“I hope I don’t disappoint you,” I said, “but we’ll read them to discover what is in them and what Henry James might have had in mind in writing them. I’m fairly sure this will be enough to keep us busy through the term.”

After everyone had left the room, and as I was gathering up my notes, he came up to introduce himself.

“Jeremy Jacobson,” he said, putting out a hand. “I’m a graduate student, but very passionate about Henry James. With your permission I was hoping to audit this course, even though it’s for undergraduates.”

A small man, on the plump side, wearing rimless glasses, brown hair parted near the middle of his head, he looked Jewish, though as I later learned, he wasn’t. He was twenty-six, older than most beginning graduate students, having worked for a while on a small-town newspaper in Oregon. He had gone to school at the University of Washington.

“I’m especially interested,” he said, “in the influence of Henry James Senior’s Swedenborgianism on the development of William but especially on that of Henry James.”

“I know next to nothing about it,” I answered. “You may be wasting your time sitting in this class.”

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March 2nd, 2016
9:03 PM
Thank you very much for your thoughtful piece. So humane and so well written. I'm a professor myself and will never quite think of the letter of recommendation in the same way again.

Malcolm McLean
February 24th, 2016
11:02 AM
MS affects the nervous system, I know several sufferers and I've noticed in some but not all of them a subtle deterioration in social judgement, which you probably wouldn't detect unless you knew what to look for. If J. Jacobson's social skills were fairly poor to begin with, that could account for the last message. Jacobson sounds like a typical academic. The clever, bookish boy tends not to be the most popular boy in high school. Once into an academic career, it's very competitive, you're very dependent on the esteem of other people, however you must also been as someone who contributes thoughts and ideas, not merely a follower. You have to maintain dignity in front of students without coming over as a schoolmaster. In English, there's the particular difficulty that the academic staff are often themselves not poets or novelists - they lecture about novels, but they couldn't actually write one. It is all faintly ridiculous. But, as you say, you liked the blog.

Jiminy C of Freedom's Ever Loving Marching Band
February 11th, 2016
1:02 AM
I enjoyed your story about JJ. I am not sure why I strangely enjoyed the torment you endured, but possibly because I am all too familiar with my own JJs and misery loves company. It is amazing how some people really believe that the world revolves around them, living a life of ignorant bliss while prescribing a living hell for others who they feign admiration. Mongrels biting the hands who they beg to feed them. I loved the last part of your forgiveness and well wishing . . . where you humbly acceded to the dichotomous embrace though fighting it all the while . . . such is often the price of really being someone! You have my admiration sir, but I do not desire a relationship :-)

January 16th, 2016
10:01 PM
Mr. Peschel, or, to act as a cautionary example of how not to conduct one's life. [grin]

Bill Peschel
January 5th, 2016
7:01 PM
The purpose of some people is to simply act as an example to others.

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