Soapbox: October 7th, 2008

Having to attend weekly tutorials is a fate worse than death, writes Paul Fennessy.“It’s like pulling teeth” a demoralised tutor was once heard to utter after several aborted attempts to strike up a conversation concerning Joyce’s Ulysses. And who could blame him? To this observer, tutorials are nothing less than pure unadulterated hell disguised as ‘group discussions’.Questions like ‘have any of you have actually read the book?’ or ‘exactly why have you neglected to attend the past few sessions?’ are bound to strike memories of fear and embarrassment in many a student, long after leaving the intellectual haven that is UCD.Ironically, the only thing worse than that ghastly silence which perpetually permeates room D104 and the like, is the moment when one student actually opts to respond to the increasingly belligerent tutor, in a misguided attempt to fake interest in the topic.What follows is more embarrassing than an episode of The View, as pretension levels approach their apex. The serial spoofer will hastily clear his throat, before discarding all pretences towards self-awareness and speaking, to the delight of the exhausted tutor and to the sheer horror of everyone else.These sullen individuals will typically delude themselves into believing they are on the verge of providing some form of grand, apoplectic analysis, when in reality they have merely spent far too much time watching Dead Poets Society and listening to The Doors.The well-meaning but hopelessly näive student will contrive a distinctly idiotic, ignominiously stupid statement like: ‘I feel Dostoevsky really resonates with the social malaise which inflicts our times’, or ‘I dont know if anyone else has noticed this, but I found Sylvia Plath’s poetry to be terribly depressing’.At which point the rest of the room, with collective heads in hands, will acquire the overwhelming urge to hastily evacuate the building, solemnly proclaiming to never again put themselves through such stupendous humiliation.In a futile attempt to rescue the situation, the beleaguered module co-ordinator will then reply to the unfortunate student’s cringeworthy comments by offering a subtly condescending, but nonetheless outwardly encouraging remark: ‘I suppose that’s one way of interpreting it’ or ‘That’s a very insightful point... Now let’s move on shall we?’ are two prototypical put-downs.Just before the longest forty minutes of your life mercifully stutters to a halt, the average student will experience a strange feeling of elation upon realising that they are on the verge of attaining temporary respite from this sadistic enterprise. However, as dreams of the Student Bar and the prospective consumption of moderately priced alcohol begin to intensify, a highly unsavoury situation may suddenly arise.Unbeknownst to his inattentive pupils, the tutor, having spent most of his time rambling away to no one in particular, will finally provoke a reaction amongst his dazed spectators. He will usually unleash his furious spleen on the first student whose hangover finally overcomes him and who sadly fails to realise his admirable ambition of remaining awake for the entirety of the session.Alas, once the tutor’s mask slips and his true feelings prevail, the illusory, graveyard-esque atmosphere of tutorials is at least broken and the deluge of dead students can reacquaint themselves with consciousness again.