To be an intellectual, one needs to focus her attention. What separates the intellectual from your ordinary smart person is a passion for something specific, whether it be 17th century architecture or the mating habits of guinea pigs. Ellen was an intellectual. She had studied for a decade and a half and nearly memorized not only Rousseau’s work, but his biography, to such an extent that she could answer even the most trivial questions as Jean-Jacques would, and in 18th century Swiss French.
Sitting at her desk, she looked through her students’ papers, their base summaries of other summaries, and made arbitrary marks wherever she could. Her chair was cold and hard, and she rocked back and forth over the course of an hour, warming it, softening it.
One audacious paper stood out. Some cynical student had made the claim that the entirety of Rousseau’s political philosophy came from his closeted interest in spanking. Ellen paced for a moment to calm herself down, and threw herself back in the chair with renewed purpose, resolving to judge the essay on its arguments rather than its aggressiveness. Rousseau would have done the same.
As the semester continued, Ellen kept an eye on that student, a demure young woman who rarely contributed to class discussions, but scribbled diligently in her notebook. She always wore stiff jeans, and seemed to bend over at the waist as she sat down.
“Professor Collins? I have some questions about the final.”
Ellen assured the girl that she that she’d be fine as long as she applied her powers of reason.
The girl smiled. “You really are Rousseau incarnate, aren’t you?”
As she walked away, Ellen did her best not to stare.
“Sacre bleu,” she said.