Saturday, 6 February 2016

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. Now, I have a foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so. I'll be running interesting excerpts from those letters each week.

Today's entry is a letter from Dave to me, dated 20 May, 2005. It refers to a photocopy of a paper that one of my students wrote that was so striking that I sent it to Dave to see he might make of it. With no identification, I lift this excerpt from that paper:
As my last paper I would also like to tell you that you should not expect deep intellectual papers from us. You can’t compare us to your friend David. In his choice of life he has chosen to read and become fairly intellectual, we as automotive students don’t have that same drive in the same area. Nor, do we put forth the effort for your papers. You want us to sit down at the computer and ‘critically think’ for you, someone we don’t know for a class we are just trying to pass. This isn’t our major and we aren’t as interested in this class as our automotive. In this industry we have to creatively think everyday on every job. How to do it faster, easier. We make up tools find ways to fit things places you would never have thought of. Looking at the average person to a technician I would say that our creative skills are defiantly above the rest. We have had somewhat deep intellectual conversations amongst ourselves but to do that for you is different. I am not saying that we had the same quality conversation and you and David but you can’t expect that. I guess when you said that you have to read our papers separate from his upset me because we are from two way different backgrounds and it was unfair to even compare us. We do have a much deeper side to us than I think you have reached but I do understand that it probably isn’t as deep as you have with your friends due to your nature.
My response to the student:
Your point is taken, but your argument that you and Dave have chosen different paths (while true) does not preclude the fact that you are in college. Every college graduate should be able to write an essay or composition--a paper--and write it well. Every college graduate should have been taught how to think critically and should be able to do at some level. Furthermore, I did not say that i compare your papers to his letters; rather, I said that I avoid doing so *precisely* because, as you wrote, I can’t expect that the “conversation” I have with Dave will be at the same level as the discourse I have with you through your papers.

When I am grading your papers, the only comparisons that I make are between the quality of your work and the standards that I laid out at the beginning of the term, to which standards I have seldom rigorously held any of you. Also, I sometimes compare the paper in front of me to previous papers submitted by the same person--are you getting better, are you trying harder, etc.?

You wrote that you “have had somewhat deep conversations amongst [y]ourselves, but to do that for [me] is different.” Why should that be different? College provides a forum for discussion--why should your group insulate itself from discussions of ideas with people from a different background?

I respect your right to differ with me and to express that dissent. But, let me ask you one final question: If you are intelligent enough to raise the points that you have in this paper, then why would you hesitate to show your “much deeper side?”
Dave's response:

20 May, 2005

Dear Jeff:

Thanks for the birthday card and enclosures. It’s certainly interesting having my “my face is melting” years documented so thoroughly. I shudder to think how bad it’s going to get in the next ten years, but it at least reminds me that life is a forward momentum proposition at this point and the next step is definitely the grave (with nothing in between). So, thanks!

As to the short paper on romance in the workplace, I can see your student’s points only in the sense that it conveys the “brave new world” of inverse authoritarianism rife among those who (presumably) should be accepting of the fact that their status is implicitly secondary. I mean, who is the student and who is the teacher here? And out of a page of prose, half of it is taken up with taking issue with you and the actual subject is dispensed with in two anecdotes from which no inference is drawn whatsoever. It’s the sort of thing “strong, independent” ambiance that the women have brought to the table. How much improved is education--in their view--when the teacher challenges the student and the student challenges the teacher as a matter of course! “Out of the mouths of babes” you can derive the occasional pearl of wisdom, but--almost exclusively--just regurgitating mucus and slime and vomit. You are placed in the unenviable situation of having to debate your own appointed position of authority instead of assessing the abilities of one of the persons you have been hired to assess. I presume the 20/20 [Ed: grade I gave the student] was due in no small part to the fact that the composition of actual sentences has been achieved and that that is a truly rare avis in our degraded times.

I’ll look forward to your next letter.



Jeff Seiler said...

[Some parts of both letters, as reprinted above, as well as my introduction, were left out of this post.]


If you guys want, I can retransmit it more correctly.

Also, I sent in the results of last week's voting yesterday. I guess I didn't make the deadline.

[Spoiler warning]: It was nearly a tie. You could look it up.

So, on we go...

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

This just in from Jeff...

Well the votes are in. And, this is...cough, cough...(switching to my best Walter Cronkite impersonation):

THIS is how it's turned out:

Tim, Our Moderator, voted for Random, with a well-reasoned argument.

Dave, um, Sim, voted for Chronological, with an equally well-reasoned argument.

Various folks voted one way or the other, and I abstained. There were some amusing remarks.

The consensus (thank you, M.) was that the letters should continue, one way or another.

I happen to think that I sit on (well, not literally; that would get uncomfortable) a treasure-trove of letters (that only exist in one other place.) So, as long as we can do it for free, let's do it! (But a book, with both sides presented, wouldn't be a horrible idea, would it?)

New poll!

SO: Here's the official tally:

For Random: Tim and, ...

Six others.

For Chronological: Dave and, ...

Seven others.

I say we let Tim and Dave fight it out.




I voted for Chronological. Ultimately. HEY, I get a vote, right? I abstain from abstaining!


I think there were some good ideas about how to do that, especially the idea of me continuing to annotate.

So: Tim and Dave and I will continue to fight it out.

Put up your dukes, Dave.

Isn't that just how politics (and life) works?: "A week of voting, and you're back to Square One."

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

No worries! Just keep the letters coming... however you want!

Anonymous said...


it will show the progression of thought and make it easier for research in the future.

Thank you for posting them.

A Fake Name

Jeff Seiler said...

You're welcome!

--A Fake Address

Travis Pelkie said...

More like A Fake, A Dress, isn't it, Jeff? heh

I appreciate these letters too. But we were promised the follow up letter by that college dean for Boxing Day, and it's almost Valentine's Day now, dang it! I want my money back!



Ok. Carry on.

But seriously, my vote, if I wasn't clear enough, was for chronological with exceptions for something like the Imprimis/ the college dean whose name I can't recall because it's been MONTHS now ;) related letters -- something like that where there's a limited amount of back and forth on one specific topic should be grouped together (either one week's worth of this column or a few weeks in a row, whatever works lengthwise). After all, you're including the dates with each letter or excerpt, so they are probably searchable that way (I think?)

Thanks again, Jeff.

Jeff Seiler said...

Well, Travis, Tim has that follow-up letter, but decided to shelve it. That's what, indirectly, led to the chronological vs. random voting. So, you might want to ask Tim about that particular letter...

Travis Pelkie said...



Whenever you feel would be the best time to follow up on that thread of thought, Tim.

Imagine, all this time I've been saying to myself rude things about Seiler, and it's not all his fault! I apologize for, like, half of it, Jeff. ;)