Lately there’s been much talk about trigger warnings on college campuses. Some professors now feel pressured into putting cautions on centuries-old works of literature that include scenes that could be upsetting for an ever-growing list of reasons.
I modestly propose a new category of trigger warning, as I represent a marginalized minority group especially vulnerable to emotional trauma.
I’m among the 8.5 percent of people born when the planet Venus was passing through the constellation of Scorpio. This predisposes us, once or twice in a lifetime, to the kind of all-consuming, star-crossed infatuations that literature teaches us are destined to end in tragedy. The variety of bad endings is myriad and includes, if the obsession is mutual, death by sexual exhaustion. We are part of a larger emotional diaspora of Hopeless Romantics (henceforth referred to as HRs, or HR Syndrome), who are disproportiately prone to trauma from required literary survey courses.
For if the Western Canon teaches us one thing, it’s that a love that is excessively impassioned and idealistic is doomed. I majored in English 20 years ago, and I’ve been in one of Byron’s “dark moods” ever since.
Had the university had better resources, such as a Commitee For Coddling or faculty advisor sympathetic to my disposition, I might have been encouraged to chart a different path and swap Goethe’s “Elective Affinities” — a novel about two couples who meet and fall desperately in love with each other’s spouses — for the elective affinities of the emotion-free chemistry department, where the term simply refers to the interaction of compound molecules.
Imagine the legions of sensitive students quivering on the cusp of adulthood, filled with dreams of fairy-tale romance, repeatedly taught in the classroom that their deepest longings are very likely to bring about their own demise. Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde’s firey passions are thwarted by the cruelty of fate. Emma Bovary is reduced to disgorging black granules of arsenic and then dying a slow death. Werther puts a pistol to his head over romantic disillusion, and Anna Karenina is ground up like a rodent beneath a train. Then there’s poor Humbert Humbert, hero of what some have called the 20th century’s greatest love story, who has the pathetic misfortune of finding his love-object in the guise of a prepubescent.
Still others, like Newland Archer in Edith Wharton’s “The Age Of Innocence,” suffer the protracted agony of unfulfillment. Having found true love but unable to possess it, they live out the every-graying decades of life in stifled mediocrity, a heart denied its full potential.
It’s all horrible, horrible stuff.
Wilde went so far as to say “Each man kills the thing he loves.” Thanks for that comforting thought, Oscar. These ideas don’t just make students with HR Syndrome feel depressed in the classroom, it makes them not want to bother with living. Doesn’t teaching works of literature validate suicide as a legitimate response to unrequited love, glamorized in cloaks of crystalline prose? Sure Balzac wrote “Lost Illusions,” but what about those of us who’d rather go through life blindly deluded?
One poisonous tome, thankfully obscure, should not just come with a trigger warning, it should be banned from university libraries, for it features a veritable mass-extinction of starch-collared HRs. In Max Beerbohm’s 1911 novel of undergraduate life at Oxford, “Zuleika Dobson,” an entire school class falls hopelessly in love with the title heroine and commits collective suicide lemming-style by drowning themselves in the Thames.
I am a survivor, metaphorically speaking, of that cold and biting plunge into the icy waters of heartbreak. A survivor of the soul-wrenching, stomach-churning classics of Western literature, to which I can only say: “Stay away.” — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Well CC, under the tragic circs. of the above, I think you should just thank your lucky stars you’ve your Ivy duds to fall back on, to fondle, to caress, to feel the warmth of fine wool, the softness of unlined OCBD, the smoothness of a loafer’s calf, etc, etc, etc. In short, courage mon brave, we’re all with you, right behind you. You are our leader, and never forget it…..
Well, death by sexual exhaustion ain’t so bad. I’d just forget all the rest of the clap-trap and screw, screw, screw.
I suppose that Merchant & Ivory’s cinematic luxuries are far too orgiastic for you and send you into a suspended state of ecstasy. Although you’ve most likely already indulged, stay away from John Galsworthy’s more notable works; they’ll simply be torture.
GEORGE’S RX: Throw away those Cliff’s Notes already! Get a Robb Report, drink the best stuff to wild excess, binge-screw anything that passes by. A week of this, and you’ll be cured, my friend…of just about anything (save, perhaps, liberty and purse, if you get thrown in the can). Me? Hell, no, I’ve never tried it; someone has to watch and document, you know?
I have long been under the impression that this was a blog about Ivy clothes, in which the reactionary ranting and raving could be safely ignored by skipping the comments section. But recently, I’m beginning to think that Donald Trump-ism has triumphed in the main posts, too. What’s the point? We can get this to our fill in a million other places. This is hardly the first time we’ve heard this complaint about trigger warnings, so — with respect — nothing here is original or insightful. If you want congratulations for being clear-headed and tough, go ahead and pat yourself on the back, or write to the usual suspects who get lathered up in the comments section. To adapt Rodney King: can’t we all just talk about Ivy Style here?
Ezra, I’m deeply hurt. Have I not written a paean to Ivy clothes above?
Point taken! At least you had the decency to make the attempt to link Ivy clothes into the discussion. You are a gentleman and a scholar.
It’s one thing to not enjoy a post. I accept that not everyone will each time I put one up. But it’s quite another thing to encounter a post one finds neither informative nor entertaining, and the reason why is that “this is supposed to be a clothes blog.”
You may think that or say that, but I’m the founder and editor, and my field of vision has always been much broader than that. Our nearly 1,200 posts have covered many facets of college life during the heyday and now, life in the ’50s and ’60s, WASPdom, and many other topics.
In fact, in browsing the 25 posts currently on the front page that our new format allows, I see the following non-sartorial posts:
A music playlist
The Mad Men title sequence
A vintage campus magazine
“Jaws” and Narragansett beer
The work of a French artist
A story about a popular college hangout during the heyday
Playboy’s architectural and interior designs during the ’50s and ’60s
The deaths of two prominent cultural figures
A new TV show and a few notes about heyday-era science fiction
Seems like a delightful variety. If I were a reader, I’d be excited to visit each day because you never know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s certainly what makes it fun on my end.
Well, perhaps then we can ring out another Ivy connection.
Cue up Lesley Gore: “it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry, too, if it happened to you.”
Except that I’m laughing.
I hadn’t heard of trigger warnings on campus until this post. Has any student actually contracted PTSD because of what they read, heard or seen in a classroom?
I am all for the protection of peoples’ rights, but this seems to go overboard.
Requiring trigger warnings puts professors in an untenable position on two fronts: they have to state up front that the material they are teach may not be suitable for everyone, and they have to be psychologically sophisticated enough to know what material could trigger psychological reactions in what kind of persons. Both seem like lines are being crossed.
As Christian points out with Zuleika Dobson, it won’t take much to go from trigger warnings to complete banning – neo-Nazis rejoice! That’s a serious concern in an academic community and should be of concern to all.
Although psychologists might know some people could be more vulnerable to PTSD (because of personality makeup or history or both) they can’t predict which soldiers, for example, will get PTSD after being exposed to combat and which won’t. If a psychologist can only provide a blunt prediction, how can a classics professor do better? It doesn’t take a wild imagination to envision this reduced to a disclosure/disclaimer statement longer than the syllabus. Let’s read that to the students on the first day of class and throw a real dampener on learning.
My essay (which was sent to a couple of papers and rejected, hence why I foisted it on you guys), was inspired by this:
Which was in turn inspired by this:
@Christian – everything you listed has some tangential relation to the preppy culture that your readers fetishize. The above essay has none. If you’re looking for a home for this kind of curmudgeonry, you may was to consider submitting to Taki’s Magazine or Return of Kings.
Should this site come with a trigger warning for curmudgeonliness?
But the curmudgeons, reactionaries and fuddy-duddies complain when I do posts about jazz, like the recent post about Ornette Coleman’s passing:
And one guy always carps whenever we do something about sports. Does he need a trigger warning because posts about athletics bring back memories of being picked last on the playground?
I know you’re being coy, but I’m being sincere. There is a clear difference between posts about sports or music and political posts. The “Ivy League” was, after all, coined as an athletic conference.
I think your readers who dislike jazz or sports will merely find those posts to be, at worst, boring. I doubt your Ornette Coleman post will cost you any readers. On the other hand, reactionary politics can be fairly alienating to a large swath of your readership, which is why I suggested you consider publishing your political essays in political blogs, where people go to read about politics. You may even win over a few new readers, since a number of the reactionaries like Jeff Tucker, Jeff Deist, and Theodore Dalrymple seem to enjoy writing about clothing as well. Date rape enthusiasts like Roosh V also seem to be into clothing, but I think they lean more towards lowest common denominator fashion, or whatever helps them bed women in bars. Come to think of it, Return of Kings might not be a good fit for a hopeless romantic like you. But seriously look at Lew Rockwell and Taki’s Mag as potential outlets.
And fwiw, I say this as a left wing curmudeon who happens to enjoy reading the occasional right wing rant, even if I don’t agree with it.
I vote for more curmudgeonliness: it’s fun to read.
Just did a Google News search and this, from a UK point of view, posted yesterday:
I’m not sure if I’d want to rely on Michael Moynihan for a “european” perspective.
Don’t know who the author is.
He’s an American. He made his career by moving to Sweden so he could whine about how awful Sweden’s government was, then moved back here to work for Reason magazine. He’s your typical smug Gen X libertarian aging hipster. One of those guys that embodies all of the negative stereotypes about liberals, except that he’s a right-winger.
Here’s an interesting exercise. Let’s all put those things in order from best to worst. In order from your comment, the things are:
Whining about Sweden
Working at Reason
Embodies negative stereotypes about liberals
I think “right-wing” versus “hipster” will be the deciding selection in determining point-of-view. Not sure where I’d put Sweden in the order. I see there’s an NBC show on tonight called “Welcome To Sweden.”
Notable Swedish exports: Anita Ekberg, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams
I would say “working at Reason” encompasses all of those things simultaneously. I’m not sure I can come up with precise rankings, but I can at least tell you which ones were intended to be neutral:
Neutral – American, Gen X, right wing
Negative – disliking Sweden, smug, negative liberal stereotypes, libertarian, aging hipster
These poor dears and their reactions to a reactionary posting. Of course the Internet, even the Ivy League corner of the Internet, has no shortage of predictable progressive politics and JFK worship. Nothing to see here, gents. Move along and go back to reading Vox or DailyKos.
My oh my! Your recent posts have been utterly conflagratory Christian! Your intransigence is awe inspiring however and I applaud your decision to post and defend said posts in a rather GTH fashion! Post away you insouciant bon vivant.
Reactionary, conflagratory post? If ever there was an idea that deserved mockery, it’s the notion that the best and brightest at our elite universities should need a list of trigger warnings on great works of literature, an idea that has a veritable “kick me” sign attached to it.
I’m really enjoying these so-called political posts, Christian! They just seem like some tradly common sense to me. I’m tired of the how-does-this-make-you-feel school of thought that has invaded any classes where one actually has to read a book. As a Classics and Philosophy major, I can attest to the time wasted by these unnecessary warnings and the way students abuse them to coast through classes.
Consider me be one of those that actually enjoy the variety of posts on this site… The clothes are certainly a centerpiece, but there is more to life than loafers and university stripes… I had never heard of a trigger warning, but then again I was an engineering major so there was not much required reading of novels, nor the free time to do so… On the plus side I’ve got some titles to look for at the bookstore next time. Don’t worry though, I’ll consider myself warned.
I might suggest that defenders of these “political” posts are confusing the point. It’s not “variety” to which I object. I’m happy to read about jazz musicians, for instance, because the post doesn’t revolve around waxing nostalgic about race relations from trad’s heyday.
We can get all the right-wing/left-wing baloney we want with just a few clicks of the mouse, a turn of the radio dial or a click on the remote. So what’s the point of more of it here? This blog does not provide more insightful treatment of trigger warnings or campus date rape than we can get in half a zillion places. Neither does it take a nuanced approach to what are difficult issues. (If they were so cut-and-dry, they would not rise to the level of news in the WSJ, and controversy on various campuses.) With due respect to the energy and passion with which the original post was written, it was, after all, “sent to a couple of papers and rejected.” Perhaps that’s an indication that the material isn’t especially illuminating.
This is neither to agree or disagree with the contents of this post, or with the owner’s right to publish what he sees fit. It is, rather, to explain the objection that a few of us have that too often there is an automatic conflation of a clothing style with a socio-political viewpoint.
My grandfather’s generation fought the Germans and Japanese in World War II, then came home, went to work (or to school on the GI bill), and started families. My children’s generation needs an express warning from their college literature professors that “Hamlet” or “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” might be too upsetting for some students.
Excellent, excellent article Christian. Bravo.
The very worst of those plunges into the Thames is when the person survives but the river takes his wallet. Better they both should have been lost! Second best that the person drowns but some lucky bastard — probably a Pisces! — finds it and enjoys the booty. But for the lovelorn to swim, exhaused, to the shore from what surely should have been a fatal fall into the abyss, but then finding that he is now penniless, well, there is no more evil, burning, damning purgatory than this…which is this Scorpio’s address forevermore.