Thursday, November 3, 2011

Self (Involved)

 Mr. Chips

        It is not in doubt that the most self-involved people I know, or have ever known, share the same profession. They are all college professors, all tenured and, I would say (based on honors and accolades they have received), highly esteemed in their narrow fields of largely irrelevant studies.

Professor Indiana Jones

        It would be painful to recite details of their near complete narcissism and would be far more fun to tell jokes about it, or make valid (and only  slightly extreme) comparisons between their behavior and that of other self-obsessed characters like the ones Tony Roberts performed so amusingly and convincingly in Play It Again, Sam and Annie Hall.  Like the fictional Dick Christie in the first movie and Rob in the second, these people are very hard to "reach," both figuratively and literally.  Making meaningful contact with them is, as some people say, like trying to get an appointment to see the Pope.

Tony Roberts as Dick Christie in Play It Again, Sam

        When I was in college, I held my professors in almost uniformly high regard and did not notice (in most cases) whether or not they were as blinkered as my contemporaries are.  Because I worked on campus during  several summers, I got to see many of them in quiet, "non-business" moments and, based on that, I do not think so.  They actually seemed pretty normal and to have an enthusiasm for life, family, friends (and summer) that was infectious.

Professor Edward Jessup (in Altered States) giving self-involvement a bad name and reaping (temporarily) just desserts. Blair Brown saves him and brings him back to himself.  I love Altered States.

        I myself am not terribly self-involved, just looking for other selves to be involved with.  I'm what you might call "lonely sociable."


  1. I would say I'm pretty self-involved, not to be confused with liking myself. Clearly, self-hatred, as in self-reliance, is big business, evidenced by the self-help dogma embraced almost globally at this point. Indeed, self-involvement seems to be the human condition -- something that, hilariously, took me 25 years of self-helping to realize. My experience with most people who spend their lives gardening in narrow fields is as you aptly describe. Self-reflecting cultivars are tended while broad relationships are left for fallow. I, too, adore Altered States and thank you for reminding me of it. What an ass Prof. Jessup is.

  2. I am so glad you wrote to me about this. Your remarks have opened up some areas for me to think about since, as you can probably tell, the post proceeded from feelings of resigned anger at people whose behavior has come to irritate me on multiple levels, people who (here's the old complaint) I once thought I knew, but perhaps I didn't or perhaps they've changed. Altered States is so great. I didn't realize, or had forgotten, that it was William Hurt's first role. Feckless, selfish and offensive as Jessup is on some levels, I think it's a remarkably accurate depiction of a certain type of academic and also of its time and place. I'd sort of love to see a sequel -- 5 years ahead in time -- when Jessup has forgotten the deep lessons in love and devotion that Blair Brown teaches him and decides to go REALLY, REALLY deep. It's a beautiful day in Philly. Curtis

  3. "We die to each other daily.
    What we know of other people
    Is only our memory of the moments
    During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.
    To pretend that they and we are the same
    Is a useful and convenient social convention
    Which must sometimes broken. We must also remember
    That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger." From T.S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party"

  4. Thank you for this. As they (sometimes) say, I needed that. More than I can say. Curtis