After Wednesday's disastrous class, I offered students who wanted to discuss Beckett's Endgame the option to do so in my office, informally. Two students showed up (which was about what I expected, honestly), and they were ready to talk...Not to romanticize a model with plenty of its own problems, but wouldn't it be nice if the life of the university really were sitting around talking about ideas that interested us? None of the carrot and stick of grading, none of the motivators of grants to be earned and course enrollments to maintain, and blah blah blah.
Endgame is a play about the relentless stripping away of everything, love, humor, beauty, friendship, storytelling, until the only thing left in the play at the very end is Clov's choice. He stands at the doorway, suitcase in hand, with two options: Stalemate (stay, and continue to push Hamm in his chair around the room until existence ends) or checkmate (leave, perhaps to his own death, while leaving Hamm to his). When all else is stripped away, what is left is a choice, one to made freely. Beckett, generously, I think, leaves us with the possibility of this choice--it is what defines existence after all, this ability to choose.
Of course, this life is more complex than a choice between two miserable options. It is richer and fuller and more tantalizing than that. For our students, too. they are tantalized by so much outside the classroom. If only there were a way for the academy to afford students radical freedom of choice about the life of the mind--one that revels in the possibilities that every choice offers, without dreading the negative consequences of a quiz grade or an attendance policy. Of course, when given that choice, two students come to the discussion, not the twenty-eight left in the class. And they may be comming because it'll help them earn extra credit on the exam.