I taught Sartre’s No Exit today. It went well; it’s a pretty serviceable text: content-rich yet easy to unpack, and fits neatly inside one two-hour session. Existentialist fiction is too messagey to blow me away as art (I’ll never well up in ecstatic admiration at the glittering diamond-like structure of The Plague, for instance) but it’s a good way to start the quarter, get the students thinking–but not too hard at first.
The students are not yet laughing at my quips, but they will warm up eventually. It always seems to take them a few sessions to get used to my sense of humor, partly because I don’t give them laugh cues. I don’t laugh at my own jokes because doing so decreases their entertainment value by a good 80%, consequently the students are not sure at first if I mean to be funny. They risk a few cautious titters. I learn to read what they are likely to react to (you’d be surprised how much it differs by group). Slowly we warm up to each other. Even after we are comfortable together, their mirth is mostly subdued, which makes the rare instances when I get a genuine burst of hard laughter from the entire room all the more satisfying. It’s great when it happens, it bonds the room together. Not to mention it makes me feel powerful.
(And how often in one’s daily life does one feel powerful? Sometimes I like to gesture at automatic doors to open a half-second before they do so, it makes me feel like a Jedi. Although it is tremendously disheartening when the door is out of order.)