I wrote earlier that my Bible as Literature professor is a whole blog entry unto himself. (Actually, I think the course is called the Bible in English. What-evuh.) I started going with a small group of fellow Fellows, tipped that the professor’s lectures are a show unto themselves, edutainment in the best sense of the word. Whoa. No kidding. Ralph Williams is a local legend at the U of M, and his courses seem to work this way — he lectures to giant, packed halls, while grad students handle the smaller discussion sections. As indolent KWFs, I and my fFs are choosing to attend lectures only, since they are so satisfying, part tent revival, part Shakespeare.
If I had to sum up Williams’ presentation, I’d say one-third Mick Jagger, one-third Jesse Jackson, one-third Laurence Olivier. He starts each lecture with a few handshakes with the crowd, then a recitation the hour’s “rubrics.” Today’s, on the Garden of Eden, were “The song for a woman,” “A man, a woman and a serpent,” “A blessing and a cursing,” “Silent spots in the text: How do you read,” “I don’t know” and “The uncreating word.” (Some of these were obvious, but I still have no idea what “silent spots in the text” were, unless it’s the extended riff he did on the actual meaning of the ancient Hebrew word — “ezer” — used to describe Eve.) His most obvious vocal signature is occasional pauses to exclaim, “Are you following?! Yea/nay?!?”
He dashes around the lecture hall, his enormous hands waving in the air, voice filling every corner, demanding the attention of every pair of eyes. He stands still to demonstrate God blowing the first breath into man, taking Adam’s first respirations with him, and you can hear that, too. It’s all quite riveting. My first thought, five minutes into the first lecture I attended, was, “This guy must be boffo on the Book of Job.” I borrowed my neighbor’s syllabus, and sure enough, there was a special note that the Job lecture would be delivered in two parts on special dates, rooms TBA, with “parents, friends and special guests warmly welcomed to think with us.” When he finishes, I don’t know whether to pack up my notebook or stand up with a lit match.
So you get the idea — academic living legend, very popular, never a dull moment. Now, perhaps, you can get the joke behind the humor paper’s story: Ralph Williams named UM basketball coach.