Richard “Dick” Head ’19 has gained a reputation for being a “section asshole,” that overbearing rascal who frequently dominates seminar discussions and attempts to wrestle control of the class from the professor. But it turns out Mr. Head has been playing us all for fools — this section asshole is actually an artist. Yes, his seminar skullduggery is an elaborate piece of performance art, one which I had the pleasure to observe this week.
When my esteemed editor assigned me to review the aforementioned performance art, I was tearfully outraged. “You will not waste my talents on this drivel!” I shouted at my email inbox as everyone in Bass Library glared at me. “I must be allowed to write more satirical fake news articles, for these are what my devoted readers demand!” But once I delved into the assignment, I apprehended the breadth of the art I was to critique.
A conversation with Head aided in this epiphany. “One night while drinking wine alone in my room and ruminating on the blessedly numbing solitude of death, I realized seminars are just social constructions, that they derive all their power from those who mindlessly participate in them,” Head told me as he smoked a menthol cigarette. “I wanted to wake people from their trance. That’s what art does, after all, isn’t it?” (I quickly nodded yes and looked back over my shoulder to ensure none of my friends saw me talking with him. I could not yet appreciate his brilliance.)
To jolt the hypnotized from their insidious reverie, Head has decided to disrupt the womb-like tranquility of his two English seminars (“Major English Poets Who Happen to Be White Men” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking”), as well as his History of Art section (“A Cursory Survey of Purple Burgundian Rococo Tablecloths, 1740–1742”). He has done this, of course, by assuming the mantle of section asshole to enlighten and thereby liberate his peers.
I had the distinct joy of observing Head’s art in action this past week. He divides his section asshole performance into four roles which he deploys at various times. The first is that of the “angry asshole.” In this role, Head rants with ever more gesticulation and ever less supporting logic over whatever topic the professor presents. In the performance I witnessed, Head excoriated a rococo tablecloth displayed in YUAG: “Its design is all muddled! Look at it! That composition! That … look at it!” The angry asshole also rabidly attacks anyone who disagrees with him, often resorting to ad hominem attacks such as, “Your family doesn’t even own a tablecloth, Julie! You just eat off the bare table like animals!” (Julie declined to comment.)
The second of these roles is the “cool comic.” Contrasting with the angry asshole, here Head slouches and throws his arm over the back of his chair very nonchalantly. If he has a toothpick, he will chew it. He proceeds to offer no serious responses, but instead responds with witty quips that cause his classmates to really bust a gut. With regards to Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” Head joshed, “If I wanted to hear a bunch of rednecks complaining, I’d go to my family reunion!” At this, the professor chuckled out of pity while everyone else shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Later on, Head kicked off his sandals, peeled away his sweaty white tube socks and began clipping his toenails. I cannot conceive of a more transgressive act.
Combining the obnoxiousness of the angry asshole guise with a barely contained smugness and condescension, Head’s third role, the “pretentious prodigy,” is perhaps his most annoying. In this character, Head makes hundreds of offhand references to texts the class has not read. He also alludes to the visual arts, music, theater and occasionally pop culture, drawing on the infinite knowledge his limitless mind somehow possesses. Of course, whenever he mentions anyone, be they a Romantic poet or his fifth-grade science teacher, Head refers to them exclusively by their surnames, no matter how common these names are. “I would associate her work with that of Smith,” Head asserted. “She also reminds me of Jones.”
Finally, Head can lapse into his infamous “eager beaver” persona, in which he rambles incoherently in a stream-of-consciousness babble lasting upwards of 50 minutes. His thoughts leap randomly from place to place, like a hermaphroditic frog hopping across its urbanization-ravaged swamp (thanks Monsanto). He always concludes these disjointed soliloquies with an abrupt but firm, “So, like, yeah.”
While I now consider myself a Dick Head devotee, it seems his art has yet to penetrate the sheep-like minds of his peers. “He sits next to me every class and sometimes he talks to me. I just hope everyone knows we’re not friends,” Emma Barrassed ’18 said. “I speak to him out of politeness and basic human decency, not because I like him.” Sigh, Emma, ‘tis a pity, for you have been sitting next to Van Gogh for half a semester. Perhaps he will cut his ear off to awaken you from your hubris.
Dick Head is, thankfully, nonplussed by this criticism. “Genius is never appreciated in its lifetime because it is always so far ahead of its moment. I’m in the future as we speak. In a few centuries, people will understand.” Until then, though, he will continue eating alone in the dining hall, vainly hoping we at last open our eyes to the beautiful, ineffable world around us.
Contact Joshua Baize at firstname.lastname@example.org .