Thursday, August 25, 2022


The Professional Student

Goethe, Faust, Part II, lines 6637-6641 (tr. David Luke):
As your old mossy pate can yet apprize me,
You're still a student. What else can you do
But just read on! That's scholarship for you!
One builds a modest card-house, there to sit;
Even great minds never quite finish it.

Ich weiß es wohl: bejahrt und noch Student,
Bemooster Herr! Auch ein gelehrter Mann
studiert so fort, weil er nicht anders kann.
So baut man sich ein mäßig Kartenhaus,
der größte Geist baut's doch nicht völlig aus.
The same, tr. Stuart Atkins:
I know the type—the student who keeps on
until he's middle-aged! But even learned men
continue studying because of some compulsion.
That's how a shabby house of cards is often started
which even the best mind cannot complete.

Mikhail Bakhtin, The Duvakin Interviews, 1973, tr. Margarita Marinova (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2019), pp. 69-70:
B: There were some very old students. There was no limit ... you could keep studying ...

D: That's ridiculous!

B: Yes. If you could pay to keep studying, that's all that mattered.

D: Don't you think that's ridiculous?

B: There were certainly some minuses, but also pluses to the system. There were some old students, who never really attended classes, but wanted some kind of status in life, so they became eternal students. That's what they were called, "eternal students." It was the same situation in Germany, even more so. You were given a general student gradebook, "a matricula card." You could study one subject at one university, another — somewhere else, a third one at a third, and it was all legal.

D: So there was no concept of "university year" — freshman, sophomore, etc. — and moving up each year?

B: There was, there was, but it was a formality. Usually what mattered was how many years you spent studying — three years meant you were a third-year student ...

D: And what if you studied there for eight years? Were you supposed to be an eight-year student?

B: We didn't count beyond the usual years ... "He is a perpetual exam taker ..." or "This student has a tail ...," as we used to say.

D: So there were students with "tails"?

B: Right. For example, someone could study for five or six years, but still have many "tails," that is, exams he hasn't passed. In Germany, you could take exams in any subject at any university you wanted. That was great, because there were different professors at different schools. Everybody wanted to take a course with the most famous, the best professor at the time, so they went ...

D: ... to his particular university.

B: Yes. And moved somewhere else from there. They also had those students, the kind we called "eternal students." But they had a different name for them: "bemooster Herr," that means "hairy face" ...

D: You mean with a beard?

B: No, wait, here is a better translation. "Moos," "Bemooster Herr." Covered in moss! Moss. Yes. That's the best expression, a mossy student, someone covered with moss. We called them "old students" or "eternal students."
Friedrich Strehlke, Wörterbuch zu Goethe's Faust (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1891), p. 15:
bemoost, 6638, bemooster Herr. Das bekannte Studentenlied von G. Schwab: „Bemooster Bursche zieh' ich aus“ ist schon von 1814, also viel älter als der zweite Theil von Faust.


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