Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Of Neckties and Doughnuts (Homage to a Remarkable Teacher)

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Of Neckties and Doughnuts (Homage to a Remarkable Teacher)

Article excerpt

Every person is complex but perhaps no one appears more so than a masterful teacher in the eyes of students. Many things dazzled me when I was enrolled in Professor Riffaterre's stylistics class during my first year of graduate school at Columbia in 1977. His dapper suit, his gleaming shoes, and his perfectly centered necktie; the precision of his speech that would cut to the heart of a seemingly impenetrable phrase by Breton or Lautreamont; the clear-headed way in which he'd infer meaning from a sentence's ungrammatical features; the exacting standards he set for both his students' work and his own, standards that also showed respect for the highly crafted literary texts we read. Once, when he entered our classroom to give the end-of-semester exam, he seemed changed: there was no prepared speech, no dapper suit, simply a hint of curiosity about what types of written answers he'd receive from out class. (It hadn't yet occurred to me that an exam is the time when teachers stop talking, pass the baton on to their students and wait to see their teachings applied, hoping that some ideas have taken root.) So hearing him that afternoon as he gave an uncharacteristic word of encouragement to our class while handing out a passage for analysis came as a surprise. …

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