Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Millner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Millner. Show all posts

27 November, 2016

Caille Millner, "The Politics of the Quotidian"

The protagonist is thirty-two years old and a post-doctorate teaching philosophy. The story takes place as she's getting dressed and going to meet "the" committee for her exit interview. A student rudely confronted and claimed that she didn't know what she was talking about and never had. We see her lose some of her confidence. "She needed to review his work and to reassure herself that he was dumber than she was." She maintains control of the classroom, however.

Actually, she's leaving because, "The truth of why she was leaving was that she could no longer hear what was being said in the rooms they all shared." She'd rather hear the wind and the rain and the birds. "Now she's just relieved that her side of the table will be next to the committee room's windows."

She's always been the smartest person in class and has had to prove herself over and over. "...and sure enough, after the first semester's results came in, all of the offensive behavior and snide comments fell away. The other students asked her for help with their papers, their notes, their test answers."

The protagonist is never given a name but everyone else in the story is identified and each and every one of them, even a so-called friend and colleague, insults her. She was teaching Roland Barthes when the student stormed out of class. Her friend says, "'He got angry with you over Barthes? I mean, even a kindergartner can understand Barthes'--he was laughing, and it took her a long moment to locate the name of the emotion that she was feeling. Anger. That was it. M. was making her angry."
M. had started with insults, such sly insults, that to mull over them, to untangle them, takes a moment and after a few minutes they built up into a mega-insult, but any single point is difficult to call someone out on, nor is there time. Some people are ever so clever with their micro-violent acts.

The ID photographer took a bad picture because he only had filters "designed for lighter skin." Then, he proceeds to defend himself by claiming, "I mean, they said philosophy department." As though a person with more melanin in their skin couldn't possibly teach philosophy. What an ass. The author, Caille Millner, does a great job of portraying micro-aggressions.

M., even though they'd received the same fellowship and had taken classes together, he simply cannot remember what she studied. And, when he finally remembers, he insults says her field was such a simple thing. The secretary in the office has to see her ID and then, at least twice, says "you're supposedly the teacher," and "which is what you say you are," and "Me too, honey." When the protagonist becomes perturbed, the secretary says, "You don't belong in here right now." The protagonist knows, "Unfortunately, Mikael Sbocniak and Ernst Lichtenberg and Tomas Ulrickson won't understand why those words are true. So she must tell them something else."

This is one of my favorite parts and sums up the feelings of a person who has just had enough. "Years ago, when she was just starting graduate school, she'd have loved to critique the power dynamics of a meeting like this one. She'd be spouting Hegel and Foucault. Now she no longer wants to say anything at all."

"The Politics of the Quotidian" was first published in Zyzzyva and then included in the Best American Short Stories, 2016. The story is told in third-person point of view and present tense. It's about fifteen pages long.