'Down the hall' from David Gilmour

Emma Teitel goes exploring at Victoria College

News of David Gilmour’s proud indifference to ideas and people unlike him has rocked the Canadian Twittersphere.

Gilmour and his off-the-cuff paean in Hazlitt to macho men of letters earned him attention in the American press and incited the wrath of Jezebel writers and academics eager to point out that the Canadian novelist does not have a PhD (because a doctorate, as we all know, is the prerequisite to a sound and tolerant mind). After that first cringe-worthy interview, Gilmour did himself no favours by attempting to clarify his remarks in the National Post. Again he insisted that those interested in reading the works of women, gays and Chinese people go “down the hall.”

“I don’t love women writers enough to teach them. That’s all I’m saying,” he explained. “What I teach are guys. If you want women writers, you go down the hall. … I have a degree in French literature, and I speak French fluently, but I don’t teach French literature because I don’t feel it as deeply and as passionately as some of the other teachers here. So I actually send people down the hall to somebody who can teach it better. The same thing goes for German writers, for women writers, for gay writers, for Chinese writers.”

Down the hall … it’s a big theme in Gilmour’s worldview. It’s also, I’m assuming, as a gay female writer, where he thinks I belong.

So who exactly is down the hall? I decided to find out.

On the third floor of Victoria College’s Northrop Frye Hall, Gilmour teaches a class called Cultural Forms and their Meanings: Cinema, Literature & the Modern Mind. The day of my visit the floor was very quiet and virtually empty. I had assumed that just a few doors down from room 332 (where he teaches) I’d find some Gilmour outcasts: Chinese lesbians reading Fanon, Germans hunched over Alias Grace, a professor giving a lecture on Alice Munro in French. But the only faces I noticed resembled those on Gilmour’s syllabus: portraits of old white men lined the walls from Gilmour’s classroom all the way — surprise, surprise — “down the hall.”

And that’s the thing about university: down the hall isn’t all that different from up the hall. Dead white guys still reign supreme on the syllabus and on university walls. Attribute that to whatever you like—sexism, racism, boring-ism—but it’s true, regardless of how many anti-oppression disciplines have sprung up on North American campuses in the past 30 years. Gilmour didn’t tell us anything new, he told us everything we already know (albeit in the most annoying way possible).

Maybe that’s why Lenny Newman, a 21-year-old Victoria College student who took a Gilmour class last year, is unfazedBefore I could even finish asking her if she was surprised by his remarks in Hazlitt, she was shaking her head. Newman described Gilmour as “brilliant,” but “without a doubt, sexist.” How so, I asked. “He talked about his ex-wives all the time,” she said. “I’m not sure how many he has.”

Another student (not one of Gilmour’s) was more forthright. “I think he should probably leave, like, now,” said Claudia Oriano, a 19-year-old, first-year humanities student. I asked Oriano what she’d say to Gilmour if given the chance. “I don’t think it’s publishable,” she replied.  “A statement like (his) deserves expulsion.”

University professors can’t be expelled, to my knowledge. In any case, the punishment strikes me as overkill — like shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun.  To expel Gilmour would be to pay him way too much attention.  Better to have David Gilmour follow his own prescription, as derivative and forgettable as it is:  Go down the hall.

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