Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cutting A Long Story Short

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was a postgraduate in a Department of Biblical Studies. Each week, we had to attend a staff-postgraduate seminar, at which we would listen to someone present a paper, followed by a question-and-answer session, before heading off for lunch in the pub.

On one occasion, a professor gave a paper on the story of Samson (which sprawls over four chapters, Judges 13-16), in which she proposed a particular reading: that this was a story written by men for men, ostensibly as a warning not to allow oneself to show any vulnerability to women, who are inherently not to be trusted; but that the account betrayed that thing which all men fear, castration (Samson’s cut ‘hair’ subconsciously representing cut testicles).

The paper presented, and questions invited, I raised my hand. I had a problem with this particular reading. The problem was, it was presented in such a way that I could not question it. If I dismissed it out of hand, that was ‘evidence’ of my fear of castration. If I wanted to call into question any part of her methodology, it would simply be a ‘disingenuous attempt’ at hiding my fear of castration. If I claimed not to harbour a fear of castration, in that my sense of identity was not primarily located in my ability to father children (massive disappointment though that would have been), that would have been ‘denial’ on my part of my fear of castration. If a female colleague called the reading into question, then she was ‘a fool’ for allowing us men to get off the hook (do they use hooks?)…in short, whatever the paper was, it was not a scholarly paper; because such work must, by definition, be open to questioning. The only thing that had been castrated, I concluded, was the academic process itself.

All eyes in the room were on me: who did this impudent boy think he was, to suggest that the Empress wasn’t wearing any clothes?


  1. So what did she say - I'm dying to know!

    At least, having read the next post, I now see where this fits in.

  2. What did she say? Nothing.

    After an awkward silence, the Head of Department passed her the get-out-of-jail card, by asking (somewhat pointedly) whether anyone else had anything to contribute...