I declared myself an English major because I did well on the verbal part of my SATS and had lousy math teachers. I played it safe because I didn’t want to flunk out, and I figured I would get to read novels and other books on the list of the 101 Greatest Books of the Western World. So in the last quarter of my first year in college, I took a special introductory English class for English Majors only.
Needless to say, I was thrown into a state of shock, even panic, when I got my first paper ever that I had written as an English major with a D + on it. What the plus was for I am not sure. I had tried hard on it, probably overly hard; but was somewhat hampered by the fact that I had no idea what I was supposed to say or not to say about C.P. Snow’s little essay—much read in those days by English majors—called “The Two Cultures” or something like that. This article said something like the humanity’s way of looking at things—whatever that was; and the scientific way of looking at things—whatever that was, were not opposed or had more in common than they thought they had.
For my part, I had no idea that these two points of view were in some sort of conflict to begin with. I liked science for my part. Once, for some unknown reason, I had read a number of books on ghosts and ghostly phenomena in high school. I was really impressed by the way poltergeists could bite a person and leave actual teeth marks along WITH SILIVA. That saliva part suggested I should take poltergeists more seriously than I had.
Then I read a book that analyzed different stories on poltergeists and showed the scientific basis for many ghostly phenomenon in unconscious mental processes. Take for example those guys in India who could do all sorts of amazing things with their bodies, or those cases of hysterical blindness and such. I found these scientific explanations about as amazing as the supernatural ones.
I read another book that like “proved” people had past lives by the use of regressive hypnosis. I thought, if this is true, why the hell haven’t I heard anything about this book before? So I went back to the library and checked out a book right next to the one I had read, and it was a whole book, with different articles by different scientists, refuting the book I had read which had been apparently pretty notorious in its day. This one was also about unconscious processes and the great power of suggestion.
Where’s the conflict here? I don’t see any conflict. Had I been a Hindu maybe I would have been upset with the refutation of the idea of past lives. But I wasn’t a Hindu. As for ghosts, whether they existed or not really wouldn’t and didn’t get in the way of my enjoying a good ghost story. Where’s the conflict?
So lacking anything to say really, I tried to impress the teacher by writing humungous Latinate sentences that went on forever. He wrote a lot of stuff on that paper, but the thing I remember is: “Write as if you lived in the 20th century.”
I thought that was gratuitous really; and fuck me! In any case I thought I was doomed.