Spine chills

Reeling from Cho Seung-hui’s bizarre video manifesto, his comparison of himself to Christ, his lashing rage and twisted blame. To think that he positioned himself as a martyr — my spine chills, I get a strange feeling under my fingernails, my whole being tightens up…

What of my students, those few who are exceptionally alienated, hostile, lonely, strange, those who scowl from under baseball caps, those who decree “I hate Americans,” those who start mean rumors or stop coming to class because they’re too depressed to get up in the morning? What of Sun who took her life or another student who once referred to himself as “a cutter” (of his own arms).

When Sun died, I wrote here wondering what the responsibility of a teacher is to our disturbed charges. What is my responsibility right now to my students — especially my many Korean students (most of them not, I hasten to add, unusually disturbed)? I don’t know. I’m puzzled. And if there is someone among us, a peer even, who shows traits like Cho’s? What can I/we do? What should I/we do? Why are people so weird? So miserable? So vengeful?

This is not, I know, the time to say that I recently read (for it is my habit to read handouts that professors leave lying around the halls and copy room) an excerpt from Sade’s Juliette — a beautifully written, rhetorically looping argument in defense of murder — but it’s an odd coincidence. People are so easily seduced by their own power to destroy. At least Sade was able to shape his destructive urges by putting them inside characters and exquisite sentences — there is such a huge difference between a viciously imaginative libertine amoralist and the tangled-up angry kid who convinced himself his insanity was a kind of retributive justice.

It doesn’t sound, though, like there was anything anyone was able to do for him, even though he said, “You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today.” He doesn’t go into details, but one wonders if he had thought to direct the same criticism at himself. “I didn’t have to do this,” he said, “you forced me.” If “you” here is really, I suspect, his own derangement, and he was unable to manage that derangement himself, what could possibly have helped him? Meds? Love? Restraint? Sedation? Clearly not religion. Clearly not education. Honestly, I don’t presume to know ~ I only wish I knew how to take preventive measures in the spheres I inhabit. Your ideas and suggestions are welcome.

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