Judging from the flyers around campus these days one might think that no kind of love is wrong. From gay posters advertising a “queer trysts” film series to Vagi-na Monologues promotionals oozing phrases like: “it smelled like spoiled milk and was getting on the seat of his car,” the air is thick with the musk of transgressive love, the illicit acts of romance, of lust with people of the same sex and even perhaps between species. But there is one kind of sexual relationship that was recently prohibited by the University. Alarmingly, few have noticed and fewer care.
As an article in The New York Times Magazine reports this week, a large number of books have been published recently about the relationship between Abelard and Heloise, a famous medieval couple of this type, a student and teacher who dared to cement the bond of learning with the bond of copulation; a dark deed that lead to the castration of Abelard—the teacher—and their ultimate installation into a monastery and cloister, respectively. Apparently, our morals haven’t changed much since the middle ages. Several years ago, Duke University decided that the most common type of student-teacher relationship—that between a teacher and a pupil in one of her (or his, sigh) classes could no longer be allowed.
We cheer queer trysts but suppress love in one of its most natural milieus, the classroom. Greek philosophers and Afghan warlords are both know by their penchant for making love to their pupils, and judging from the Latter Day success of both the ramifications of this process were less than deleterious. Indeed, some folks in the Church of the Latter Day Saints are legendary for having multiple wives, and for this we respect them as we respect all religions, no matter how ridiculous their claims or repressive their policies, yet we burn amorous teachers at the stake.
A teacher and a student having a romantic relationship is hardly more ridiculous than polygamy. In fact, in many ways it is more sensible: there are no scriptures that view dark skin as a curse from God or mentions of simple things like the wheel before they were invented. And the motives for a student-teacher relationship are beyond reproach: a love of knowledge merged with a love of the flesh, the sacred and the profane bundled into a single package—the human being most exposed. Or, for those of us who aren’t philosophically inclined, it’s a great way to pass hard classes.
And we can think of it as a public service, a mitzvah. Poor academics, slaving away for knowledge and truth can often become tired in their solitary questing, exhausted in the hunt for novelty as ATP-dependent organisms so often become. This is where you, young and beautiful undergraduate, can help. Classical antiquity is rife with examples of the muse, the woman—and I suppose man these days—driving the great poets to the pinnacle of human achievement, to the apex of possibility and beyond with tender words and a loving embrace.
After long hours spent wresting knowledge from the unknown, our teachers need relaxation and release. They need the sweet embrace of a youthful lotus who can take their pains with a nubile offering of love, to be cherished in its purity and genuine donation. Without motivation, humans are an unworthy assortment of organisms, content and willing to remain in one place, to be battered by the impersonal tides of Fate and the wicked hand of Destiny. But enter the Muse, that specimen of rare character and sweetness who inspires redoubled effort and inspired productivity! Without the irresistible flame of love the human moth would never have risen from the jungles of its birth.
The success of a research university depends on this age-old bond, upon the pairing of master and apprentice, and it is a scandal that we have allowed bureaucrats to revoke this sacrosanct right. Who are they to stand in the path of the heart, the timeless yearning of DNA to claim yet another generation for its own? There is an old saying in France: men are like melons; they get better with age. Unfortunately, youthful melons fare less well, which is why this unjust rule must be abolished before these formidable assets are allowed to sag, untouched by the Hands of Knowledge.
Matt Gillum is a Trinity senior. His column appears Wednesdays.