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Taking “Acid” in College

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Taking “Acid” in College

The consensus among Blake scholars seems to be that Blake’s “Mad Song” depicts the condition of insanity. A handful of critics will occasionally concede that the speaker may be a poet who has lost his sanity because of his poetry, but they invariably offer “inability to create” as the specific cause of his dementia. The evidence suggests, however, that the speaker’s affliction is not impotence, but omnipotence. — “Method in Blake’s ‘Mad Song,'” F.R. Duplantier, 1979

At the end of the 1973 fall semester at Tulane University, I was obliged to declare my major. I was drawn to history, philosophy, political science, and English and would have been happy to major in any one of them, but I had to make up my mind by the end of the day. My dad was the director of university relations, so I stopped by his office in Gibson Hall late that afternoon to talk it over with him. With moments to spare before the 5 PM deadline, I settled on English and headed for the department office one floor below in the same building.

Dr. Assad lookalike
Dr. Assad lookalike Telly Savales (Kojak)

The secretary asked who I wanted for my advisor. I had no idea. “Well,” she responded, “everyone’s gone home but Dr. Assad [pronounced: Acid]. He’s still in his office down the hall. How about him?” Sure. I’d never met the guy and knew nothing about him. Why not?

One of Thomas Assad’s first suggestions as my advisor was to sign up for his spring course on Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. He was muscular, baldheaded, and looked like Kojak, so I accepted his advice. In answer to a question on the first exam about William Blake’s early poem “Mad Song,” I made the mistake of commenting that the theme seemed to be inspiration not madness. “That would be a good topic for your honors thesis,” Dr. Assad told me later. Honors thesis? Who said anything about an honors thesis? That fall, I began working on Blake’s “Mad Song,” An Instance of Poetic Madness, with Dr. Assad as my thesis advisor. (A condensed version was published five years later in the Blake Quarterly.)

6 Comments

  1. Jon Williams

    I’ve just gotten a text from my freshman swimmer daughter at UT Austin that the professor in her very first college course is named Benjamin Sparrow. I howled and replied that we’ve surely sent her to Hogwarts, but then I added that my very first college professor was named Dr. Acid. I think I’d told her before, and added that he looked just like the brigand I’d watched the day before on an old black and white adventure film called “The Black Pirate.” My Tulane dormmate in the fall of 1971 was one of the very few freshmen on campus, I’m sure, that had a television. Anyway, Dr. Assad felt that the ten of us in his freshman honors literature class would be too many for effective conversations so he broke us into three groups and we each met once a week. “The Windhover,” I remember, we had to memorize. And when I argued that “Kubla Khan” was surely Coleridge’s description of injecting opiates into his arm and enjoying them, the Black Pirate wouldn’t hear of it, telling me that shooting up hadn’t been invented by then. Hung in at Tulane for three semesters then joined my would-be hippy friends at Indiana University. But I’ll never forget Dr. Assad. Thanks for your story!

  2. F.R.

    Ah yes, “The Windhover.” Dr. Assad loved Hopkins. “God’s Grandeur” is still one of my favorite poems.

    Dr. Assad came to my wedding in 1986, but I haven’t seen him since and imagine he’s passed on. He’d be 91 if he were still alive.

  3. Gary Catren

    Ah, yes, “The Windhover.” I was reading (memorizing) it again this week, and it reminded me of Dr. Assad and his technique of asking a question, but never commenting on the answer. Was it the correct response or not? The answers to some of the questions didn’t come until years later. With the aid of the Internet, I had hoped to thank him for opening the wonderful fascinating world of poetry to me, but, alas, I am too late. He is one of my real life Heroes.

    http://obits.cleveland.com/obituaries/cleveland/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=159665395#fbLoggedOut

    [ASSAD TOM J. ASSAD, age 92. Beloved husband of the late Jacqueline M. (nee Cefaratti); loving father of Sylvia Holloway (Lou, deceased), Thomas, Jr. (Barbara), Joseph (Martha) and Gina Banyasz (Mark); cherished grandfather of Lisa, Fred, Dina, Lori, Roseanne, Joe, Kelly and Jackie; dearest brother of Josephine Nemer, Mary Assad and the following deceased: Ernie and Lorice Assad. U.S. Army Veteran of W.W.II. Services 9:15 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 at GOLUBSKI FUNERAL HOME, 5986 RIDGE RD., PARMA. Funeral Mass 10 a.m. Holy Family Church (York Rd.). Interment Holy Cross Cemetery. FRIENDS RECEIVED 3 – 7 P.M., WEDNESDAY. Family prefers memorials be made to Holy Family Hospice, 6707 State Rd., Parma, OH 44134.]

  4. John Freeman

    In 1966 I was accepted into Tulane medical school for the next school year. I was a junior at Tulane and almost all my undergraduate courses had been science prerequisites for med school. I decided to register for some non science courses for the Spring semester and one that interested me was Dr Assad’s Romantic Poetry. It was a graduate level course so I had to get his permission to register. He looked me over and we had a lengthy interview in his Gibson class room. As he got up to leave he said to me “ well I suppose if I had to have an operation, I would prefer my surgeon knew a little Wordsworth. “ I have treasured that course throughout my medical career and now into my retirement. I so fervently wished to thank him but was never able to locate him.

    Yet the memories of him and the class remain my “dances with the daffodils”

    John Freeman MD

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