I re-read the posts I wrote in early September 2020 and 2021, at the beginning of the academic year, and bad as the situation was then because of the widespread presence of Covid-19, they even sound optimistic in comparison to what lies ahead. Talking yesterday with my seventeen-year-old niece, who starts next week her studies at my own university (how exciting!), I was aghast to hear from her lips that her generation is certain that civilization as we know it today will last for no more than fifty years. This is heart-breaking, not so much because Homo sapiens deserves better, but because I don’t know how young students are going to be motivated in the years to come. Unless, that is, we focus all our degrees on the possibility of that apocalypse and start teaching survival strategies right now. Easy for Literature teachers, with all that post-apocalyptic fiction around.

            My niece knows and I know that what is killing us is patriarchy—not masculinity, but patriarchy, that is to say, the villainous ideology by which humanity is organized on the basis of the power which a handful of hegemonic individuals wield. These hegemonic individuals are, as we know, mostly men, but the patriarchal aspirations of the women leading nations or aspiring to leading them from the right and the extreme right wing are also manifest. I’m writing on the day when Liz Truss, an adamant Thatcherite, has been appointed new Prime Minister replacing the obnoxious Boris Johnson. This is a disaster not only for post-Brexit Britain but also for feminism, as we see once more the wrong kind of woman empowered. I’m also writing, and that is even more important, two days after Russian despot Vladimir Putin has extended the war in Ukraine to all of Western Europe by cutting off the gas supply. ‘Winter is coming’ indeed, as the slogan in Game of Thrones used to warn, and this time it is going to be very harsh. Unless, that is, it turns out to be the warmest winter on record, as this summer has been, because of climate change. One way or another, people will suffer and die unnecessarily just because an idiotic patriarchal man cannot cope with his own ageing and bodily decadence.

            My impression is that human beings can only cope with one crisis at a time, which might explain why once the Ukraine war started back in February, the preoccupation with Covid-19 has receded. The seventh wave has been certainly much milder, but still more than 60 persons have died every day in Spain (though the figure is bigger for the victims of this summer’s appalling heat wave). This year we need not wear facemasks in class, though they are still mandatory in public transport, but we might have to worry about the low temperatures in the classroom or the lack of power in the homes. Or of water, given the summer drought.

            Physical discomfort is an important enemy of teaching and learning, and we might see quite a bit of that. The optimists will say that Putin’s threats are a good excuse to finally embrace renewable sources of energy, the pessimists will argue this is the first step towards the final collapse. Although I am myself a pessimist, I see plenty of personal suffering in the coming years for many persons, rather than a radical collapse. I am assimilating the idea that my parents’ generation are lucky, as they are enjoying a rather good quality of life and need not worry, like my niece, about the world in fifty years’ time, when it’ll be time for her to retire. As for my own old age, I just don’t know what to think any more.

            I’m not teaching this semester, which I will spend again focused on research, but I do share this schizophrenic feeling by which my colleagues and I are looking forward to returning to class in a post-pandemic situation (or the illusion of it) while wondering how to deal with the students’ anxieties and general disinterest. Many of my peers and myself are investing energies in subjects that, we know, are not going to work well because the breach between the generations is growing faster, propelled by this sense that things are terminal. Students are going to be wondering, perhaps more than ever, what good any subject can do in a world with no future, and sustaining the fiction that everything matters because there is indeed a future is going to be harder than ever.

            At the point we are at, after two and a half years of worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, we should feel relieved that the virus seems to be losing strength (though we’ll see what happens when the protection afforded by the vaccines wanes). Yet, we’re feeling exhausted about the general inability to stop Putin’s crazy patriarchal bid to conquer Europe, and scared by this summer’s evidence of the unstoppable climate change. Perhaps I am myself a bit crazed with all this tension, but I wish things started being simpler. Let’s eliminate low-cost flying and mass tourism, go vegetarian, buy less, stop squandering fossil fuels. Let’s lead in short a much simpler life, which will probably be also happier. We missed that train when Covid-19 started, but it is passing by again, courtesy of the tyrant Putin; let’s board it now.

            Focusing more narrowly on teaching, it is my intention to work on approaching students on a better informed basis in the compulsory core subject ‘Victorian Literature’. By this I mean that I intend to begin the first lecture by asking students who they are on the basis of a small questionnaire and that they sign a contract with me. I will follow in this one of the many examples that can be found online. I happen to like Prof. Howard Culbertson’s example, which I will adapt to suit my own needs. My university insists that the syllabus (or Guia Docent) is a contract, but in my view it is too focused on what needs to be done to pass a subject to the exclusion of how teachers and students should interact.

            I want to make that interaction far more explicit because pedagogy is always addressed to supplying the alleged deficiencies of teachers, but routinely forgets that students have no clue about what they are supposed to do. This refers to a series of important matters, from class etiquette to how use most productively study time at home. I feel that we, teachers, tend to take it for granted that this is just common sense but the open expression of boredom from our students suggests that something is very wrong. So that’s my aim in this academic year: kill off boredom by explaining how to be a student. I learned from reading the nautical novels of Patrick O’Brian that captains take pride in running a ‘happy’ ship (that is a tight, functioning machine) and I want to run a ‘happy’ class. We’ll see if I can.

            We also begin this new academic year having heard not only of the ‘great resignation’ by which so many Americans have abandoned their exploitative jobs but also of this new concept, ‘quiet quitting’. This refers to a stance by which workers refuse to do any tasks beyond what their contract specifies on the grounds that doing more means endorsing one’s own exploitation. As a worker expected to do much more than the weekly 37’5 hours of my contract, I sympathize. If we manage to have a future despite the catastrophe looming in the horizon, we need to prepare the younger generations for a more human work environment, with shorter working weeks and days, and with regulated commitment.

            I believe that all workers have a right to leading a satisfactory personal life beyond work, and this means limiting the use of working time to what is fair. At the same time, I am not sure about whether students will import the quiet quitting philosophy into the classroom and how this will affect study. The ECTS system tried to limit study by specifying that each credit should amount to 25 hours of work for the student, so that each academic year would consist of 1500 working hours, or 60 ECTS. My own workload amounts officially to about 1700 hours. If students and teachers stick to those hours, I’m afraid that there is simply not enough room for reading and studying. In that sense quiet quitting is rather a threat for education, though I certainly intend as a worker to get rid of all the extra tasks I need not do. There is already a certain concern that if many academics do that peer reviewing, which is done as an extra, might die, and so will editing journals and other key academic tasks.

            So, to sum up, in my thirty-one years as a teacher, this is the first time I cannot think with clarity of the future of the species. My impression is that so far, Covid-19 included, we were thinking of the future on an individual basis, perhaps a national one (I’m thinking here for instance of the bid for Scottish or Catalan independence). Putin has made it clear that patriarchal fascism is once again part of our current history, and might, together with climate change, end civilization as we know it. If Covid-19 mutates into a more dangerous variety or a new virus emerges, then this will only accelerate a process of decay that has indeed started. How to be an educator in these circumstances is significantly much more difficult as, by definition, our task aims at the future. If our students have no future because patriarchal villainy is destroying it, then we don’t even have a present. From next Monday onward, as the new academic year unfolds, we’ll have to take matter one step at a time, and learn to survive.