‘The Chair’, Episode 5: Sandra Oh’s Character Defends Professional Literary Criticism

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You are reading a recap of episode 5 of the Netflix series The chair with writers Alison Kinney, Grace Lavery, Dan Sinykin and Rebecca Wanzo. Find our other episode recaps here.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Rebecca: David Duchovny is so Game in this episode. It reminds me of that hilarious turn of Keanu Reeves playing a narcissistic version of himself in Always be my maybe. Kudos to them for keeping his cameo a secret and for the delightful send off from celebrity hunting institutions.

Dan: The Duchovny songs are fantastic. He’s great to play with a cocky asshole – and I love how his CV is true to life: Princeton, Yale, “The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels”. I would have liked his thesis to be available for reading, but apparently you have to be on the Princeton campus to access it. His meeting with Ji-Yoon offers him a chance, which only we, the audience, can see, to take a stand for the discipline. She tells him that his thesis is an artefact of the past and that he missed three decades of development, that professional literary criticism is not a scene for dilettantes, that we have fields of knowledge built collectively by scholarship. who ask to be taken. seriously – an admission I’m not sure has ever been portrayed in popular culture so seriously.

Grace: The difference between today and 30 years ago, according to Ji-Yoon, is: “Effects theory, ecocriticism, digital humanities, new materialism, book history, developments in gender studies and critical theory of race”. I was not sure what to think of this as an account of the last decades, and especially not sure why “developments in gender studies and critical race theory” are timed differently from the rest of the world. listing. Ji-Yoon wants us the public to know that neither gender studies nor critical race theory has been invented over the past 30 years, but grouping them together in a different syntactic structure, and therefore in a different style of periodicity, I’m a little concerned that there is a feeling that the current white panic around, say, critical studies on race-informed approaches to high school curricula, remains unchallenged. A casual viewer of this show might think universities are threatened today by crowds of awakened youth, rather than crowds of white supremacists like those who gathered on campuses in Charlottesville, Seattle, Berkeley and elsewhere in 2017. The framing of the university’s broadcast as a political entity greatly exaggerates the risks of a so-called “culture of cancellation” and considerably underestimates the risks of fascist agitation. I have no idea the answer, gah.

And guess what? You can get a PDF of “The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels”. (Thanks to my spy at Princeton for passing it on to me.) As much as I’d like to tear it to shreds, I have to say I think it’s… really pretty brilliant, for an undergrad? I would certainly listen to the author of “The Schizophrenic Critique” talk about Beckett for a semester, if only to explore the tantalizing proposition that “there is nothing Beckett doesn’t believe in.”

Dan: Bill, meanwhile, is somehow making his way into the affection of the Korean community, despite his dramatic misstep at Min-ji’s birthday party, where he is. drunk and drugged on weed and hydrocodone. He survives thanks to the benevolent supervision of Ju Ju. It’s billed as the titular “Last Bus in Town” episode for Ji-Yoon, but what a janky bus.

Alison: OK! I love the way the Min-ji party demonstrates the dynamic that ran through the whole show: Ju Ju is a little kid, but she has to deal with Bill, watch over him, lead him. (“Bill, it’s not cake time yet!”) It’s the job of every woman of color, to every white man, on this show.

Rebecca: This scene between Yaz and Elliot was painfully realistic. How many times have we heard someone say that a review won’t be taken seriously without negative feedback? Constructive criticism and peer review are essential to our profession. But if someone is exemplary, it’s ridiculous that you can’t say it. Yaz had every right to be enraged with him. But the conversation between Yaz and Ji-Yoon is made even more painful and realistic when it describes two friends and colleagues who feel betrayed by each other.

We got four academics together to discuss the show’s portrayal of academia, and they didn’t hold back. Read the recaps:

It comes back to the issue of the glass cliff. It’s not clear to me that anyone ever tried to interfere with anything Elliot did until Ji-Yoon, although the department has needed an intervention for a long time. Ji-Yoon barely has work for five seconds, and the dean is pressuring her about enrollments and retirements, she has the first black woman vying for promotion and also has to deal with the effects of long. date of sex discrimination. It’s just the everyday, without Bill’s crisis. Elliot was probably president for a long time and untouchable. It’s the all-too-familiar story of a department where there has been a cabal of people who have run it for a long time, and how women and people of color are disrupting the status quo – but only to an extent.

Alison: I was struck by the way these tensions manifest themselves in the classroom. Yaz tells Elliot he’s not a teacher because “you don’t have any students.” This is touched on so nicely in the last episode, but I’ve felt, watching the show so far, that those of us who teach have been challenged to ask what our standards are for good teaching, what are our commitments and if we’re working hard enough to renew and review them. I loved following the debates here on pedagogy and classroom engagement. Is it a good show – or a good roundtable – if it makes me wonder: what if I was an Elliot? What if I’m a Bill? What if I’m a Yaz? I can’t be the only person looking at this and wondering how I should improve my methods and my commitments.

Grace: I appreciate this framing of the educational styles of the show as non-hierarchical options. I’m afraid I’m an Elliot! Or, worse, a Duchovny …

This episode tries to offer an answer to the question I asked myself: what are we doing? The conversation with David Duchovny is also an important issue, because The chair must distinguish between selling in Hollywood, “content” and clickbait on the one hand, and rejuvenating the profession with a popular engagement pedagogy based on Twitter on the other. The move, which is more than a little underhanded, has been to align David Duchovny’s insipid ego-pedagogy with the elderly, personified in Harold Bloom, with whom Duchovny has been associated in previous episodes. I’m skeptical of this argumentative approach – I don’t think those looking to parachute vulgar into positions of academic influence have much in common with classic “dinosaurs,” to use Elliot’s word. But as a plot, it’s quite satisfying. This allows us to believe that the bad guys are all the same, even though (as we learn about the rifts between Ji-Yoon and Yaz here) the good guys have been split up.


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