The Wit and Wisdom of Cockmaster D

The Wit and Wisdom of Cockmaster DThe student-professor romance is an erotically charged if ethically dubious prospect. The key word is “prospect.” While probably everyone has taken the GER101 class enthusiastically taught by that really hot grad student who was writing her dissertation on Hannah Arendt, actual entanglements seem to be exceedingly rare in real life — disproportionate representation in popular culture and student dream life notwithstanding.

William Deresiewicz is an Associate Professor of English at Yale as well as a frequent contributor to The Nation and other publications. While to many he may be known as “Professor Deresiewicz,” to others he is better known by the affectionately-bestowed sobriquet “Cockmaster D.” In the current The American Scholar, the Cockmaster tackles the subject of student-professor romance, aiming to show:

Why we should understand, and even encourage, a certain sort of erotic intensity between student and professor.

In this actually pretty interesting (and very worth reading) essay, Deresiewicz first examines the stereotype of the lecherous academic — a stereotype, he claims, which embodies, “not only our culture’s hostility to the mind, but also its desperate confusion about the nature of love.” To flesh out this stereotype, Professor Cockmaster turns to cultural sources traditionally taken as the final word on American life: a boatload of crappy movies about English professors, along with the novels of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. The following picture emerges:

The alcoholic, embittered, writer-manqué English professor who neglects his family and seduces his students is a figure of creative sterility, and he is creatively sterile because he loves only himself. Hence his vanity, pomposity, and selfishness; his self-pity, passivity, and resentment. Hence his ambition and failure. And thence his lechery, for sleeping with his students is a sign not of virility but of impotence: he can only hit the easy targets; he feeds on his students’ vitality; he can’t succeed in growing up.

Needless to say, NO ONE like that has ever worked at an Ivy League university. Plus, as the Cockmaster points out, “Male professors are not less-devoted or less-faithful husbands, on average, than other men – in fact, relative to wealthier ones, they are probably more so.”

So “whence,” as Professor D might ask, does this stereotype come? After mentioning not unseriously the possibility of bitter screen-writers with an axe to grind against their old creative writing professors, the Cockmaster takes a closer look at the “idea of universities as dens of vice, where creepy middle-aged men lie in wait for nubile young women.”

Suddenly, professors had access to large numbers of young women, and just as suddenly, young women were asserting their sexuality with new freedom and boldness. People drew the inevitable conclusion. Since then, American culture has only become increasingly sexualized – which means, for the most part, that youth has become increasingly sexualized by the culture. Not coincidentally, concern about the sexual exploitation of children has reached the dimension of a moral panic. In the figure of the movie professor, Americans can vicariously enjoy the thought of close proximity to all that firm young flesh while simultaneously condemning the desire to enjoy it – the old Puritan dodge.

In contrast to the stereotype of the lecture-hall-lecher who is shtupping intellectually-smitten co-eds left and right, Cockmaster D wants to reactivate a different kind of erotic bond between student and professor, one that harks back to Symposium and certain Greek ideals of education. Cockmaster D is unafraid to trumpet the erotic bond that often exists — nay, must exist — between student and professor:

Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul.

The special intimacy of the “professor-student relationship” gets covered-up and misunderstood, Deresiewicz claims, because it stands for “a form of love that is neither erotic nor familial, the only two forms our culture understands.” Yet ultimately this special intimacy represents a more titillating prospect than mere carnal intercourse:

The “eros of souls,” in Alan Bloom’s Platonic phrase – “brain sex,” in plainer language – is not only higher than the eros of bodies, it is more satisfying.

Indeed, according to a man some call Cockmaster D, it is “brain sex” which goes to the very heart of the vocation of being a teacher:

This is the kind of sex professors are having with their students behind closed doors: brain sex. And this is why we put up with the mediocre pay and the cultural contempt, not to mention the myriad indignities of graduate school and the tenure process.

OK, here’s the thing though — that grad student who taught me GER101, I’m pretty sure it was real sex, not “brain sex,” which was on the minds of all of her students, mine included. This is just to say that while Deresiewicz has written some fine words on the subject, they may be just that — fine words. I guess I’m not convinced the reality is as sublimated as he makes it sound. What do you all think?

–HAL PARKER

  • cornell08

    I think this article is upside-down; should have the most interesting things (like the last paragraph) towards the top, rather than a bunch of esoteric text, and then should work the text into the article better so it isn’t boring. An article about a prof named Cockmaster D should never be boring. But I’m glad that this time the material wasn’t plucked from facebook :)

  • cornell08

    I think this article is upside-down; should have the most interesting things (like the last paragraph) towards the top, rather than a bunch of esoteric text, and then should work the text into the article better so it isn’t boring. An article about a prof named Cockmaster D should never be boring. But I’m glad that this time the material wasn’t plucked from facebook :)

  • D’10

    Actually, Jeff Smith, current state senator in Missouri, taught at Dartmouth for a number of years, and while there, dated the president of the Dartmouth College Democrats (an undergraduate), and fits this profile perfectly. He is the subject of the documentary, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?.

  • D’10

    Actually, Jeff Smith, current state senator in Missouri, taught at Dartmouth for a number of years, and while there, dated the president of the Dartmouth College Democrats (an undergraduate), and fits this profile perfectly. He is the subject of the documentary, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?.

  • A whole buncha Yale degrees

    I think that both can be true–that some perceived lust for one’s profs is really about intellectual rather than sexual attraction, and that some lust is, well, just lust. In my own experience, I’d say that I was pretty clear about its being intellectual attraction when the prof was female (I’m a straight female myself), but the nature of the attraction was sometimes less clear when the prof was male. I also think there may, generally, be a gender-based difference here: women are probably more likely to confuse intellectual attraction for sexual attraction than men are. When I was a TA, it was a constant source of amusement to me and my fellow TAs when we heard female undergrads going on and ON about how totally hot the prof was, when he was some absolutely uncute but reasonably youngish guy who just happened to be funny and geekily enthusiastic about his material.

    I’m now a prof myself, and I see the same thing among my own students: I have smart female students who follow me from class to class, but who clearly see me as a cool role model, and I have male students who. . . um, see something else. And lemme tell you (straight) male undergrads that it is absolutely no secret to your female instructor when you have the hots for her: you’re pretty obvious when you’re staring at her tits for the entire hour–or just staring, period, with a goofily fascinated expression. I mean, we all like to think that the subjects we teach are pretty damn mind-blowing, and that we’re utterly compelling teachers, but most of us don’t imagine that whatever we’re teaching warrants SUCH rapt expressions, or prevents your putting pen to paper for an entire hour.

  • A whole buncha Yale degrees

    I think that both can be true–that some perceived lust for one’s profs is really about intellectual rather than sexual attraction, and that some lust is, well, just lust. In my own experience, I’d say that I was pretty clear about its being intellectual attraction when the prof was female (I’m a straight female myself), but the nature of the attraction was sometimes less clear when the prof was male. I also think there may, generally, be a gender-based difference here: women are probably more likely to confuse intellectual attraction for sexual attraction than men are. When I was a TA, it was a constant source of amusement to me and my fellow TAs when we heard female undergrads going on and ON about how totally hot the prof was, when he was some absolutely uncute but reasonably youngish guy who just happened to be funny and geekily enthusiastic about his material.

    I’m now a prof myself, and I see the same thing among my own students: I have smart female students who follow me from class to class, but who clearly see me as a cool role model, and I have male students who. . . um, see something else. And lemme tell you (straight) male undergrads that it is absolutely no secret to your female instructor when you have the hots for her: you’re pretty obvious when you’re staring at her tits for the entire hour–or just staring, period, with a goofily fascinated expression. I mean, we all like to think that the subjects we teach are pretty damn mind-blowing, and that we’re utterly compelling teachers, but most of us don’t imagine that whatever we’re teaching warrants SUCH rapt expressions, or prevents your putting pen to paper for an entire hour.

  • Um

    This was kind of boring…

  • Um

    This was kind of boring…

  • seriously

    please be funnier, or hell, go ahead and throw in something insightful once in a while, but maybe actually say something insightful?

  • seriously

    please be funnier, or hell, go ahead and throw in something insightful once in a while, but maybe actually say something insightful?

  • Haaaaaaahvaaaaaaahd

    He looks cute in the pic included with the article. If I had a prof (or TA or whatever) who looked like that, I’d be talking about how hot he is too. I’d also be a lot easier to pay attention in class with a prof who was that attractive.

  • Haaaaaaahvaaaaaaahd

    He looks cute in the pic included with the article. If I had a prof (or TA or whatever) who looked like that, I’d be talking about how hot he is too. I’d also be a lot easier to pay attention in class with a prof who was that attractive.

  • Haaaaaaahvaaaaaaahd

    It’s easier to pay attention in a class like that than one where you have a fossil whose lectures are more potent than a huge sleeping pill.

  • Haaaaaaahvaaaaaaahd

    It’s easier to pay attention in a class like that than one where you have a fossil whose lectures are more potent than a huge sleeping pill.

  • D’s cuteness

    He’s definitely not that cute in person, IMO. But he *is* an amazing lecturer.

  • D’s cuteness

    He’s definitely not that cute in person, IMO. But he *is* an amazing lecturer.

  • and so the

    sad strange tenure of hal parker and jacob savage came to its timely demise

  • and so the

    sad strange tenure of hal parker and jacob savage came to its timely demise

  • Mimzy!

    I think they call him “Cockmaster” because they consider him attractive. One cannot fault him for that.
    If you ignore the silly brain sex thing, he’s actually written an insightful essay about the mass-culture-driven sexualization of human relationships. I consider myself a liberal, but even I am sick of Reductio ad Erosum (reduce to Eros), and am glad to see someone sticking up for good old fashioned Platonic affection.
    My apologies for being a humorless prig.

  • Mimzy!

    I think they call him “Cockmaster” because they consider him attractive. One cannot fault him for that.
    If you ignore the silly brain sex thing, he’s actually written an insightful essay about the mass-culture-driven sexualization of human relationships. I consider myself a liberal, but even I am sick of Reductio ad Erosum (reduce to Eros), and am glad to see someone sticking up for good old fashioned Platonic affection.
    My apologies for being a humorless prig.

  • Evan M

    This guy reminds me of Cornell Ellis Hanson, who teaches Desire, a popular class on sex and sexuality. He basically says the same thing about pedagogue-pupil relations, and how our modern society has had all these moral attacks because professors are intellectually raping our poor children.

    Brain sex is a great way to put it, but when you brainfuck someone quite often you next want to just plain fuck them. And while I don’t see any problem with Cockmaster D jackhammering a co-ed, I wonder what his view on actual sexual relationships between teachers and students is… the only problem I see there is favoritism. So maybe the jackhammering can wait till the co-ed is out of his class… then they can brainfuck/realfuck all they want!

  • Evan M

    This guy reminds me of Cornell Ellis Hanson, who teaches Desire, a popular class on sex and sexuality. He basically says the same thing about pedagogue-pupil relations, and how our modern society has had all these moral attacks because professors are intellectually raping our poor children.

    Brain sex is a great way to put it, but when you brainfuck someone quite often you next want to just plain fuck them. And while I don’t see any problem with Cockmaster D jackhammering a co-ed, I wonder what his view on actual sexual relationships between teachers and students is… the only problem I see there is favoritism. So maybe the jackhammering can wait till the co-ed is out of his class… then they can brainfuck/realfuck all they want!

  • Mary Johnson

    I am a wife who is living this nightmare of “old fart” professor husband having yet another affair with a graduate student. After 36 years of marriage, after raising 2 children, packing books and household for 11 moves, 5 universities, putting him through school, playing the hostess and active faculty wife, I find myself, age 60, dumped for the latest young graduate student. Needless to say, I am angry, hurt, feeling the victim, and worst of all left without a fair retirement. Dr. D. might want a statistical study of how many good, solid, strong, righteous wives have been left by professors for the short skirted, young, adoring graduate student (who is, may I add, definately pre-menopausal). Within my workplace site, there are 4 women left by professors at the local university. Within my community of friends, I can name a dozen discarded faculty wives. Does a Ph.D. in literature destroy civilized ethics? Are the hormones too concentrated in the classroom/office?
    The very best laugh? none of these men can perform without Viagra, as all are over age 63 with multiple infirmities. Their new existence with young trophy wives, new toddlers, and yet another mortgage will be short-lived. A script for dark humor, one husband whined to his exwife that he would have to teach into his 70′s to make ends meet. His new wife was costing him too much.
    36 years of marriage – I was completely unaware and am truly devastated. His trips to MLA, papers presented around the country, all were opportunities for trysts. Let Cockmaster D. remember those of us “left behind” by the filandering old farts. We are a community of wives who cry, who have watched our families destroyed, who have lost our expected retirements, and we’ve lost our homes. In pain, we are the little faculty wives, who gave up everything for the damned Ph.D., now victims of an insideous campus culture of sex.

  • Mary Johnson

    I am a wife who is living this nightmare of “old fart” professor husband having yet another affair with a graduate student. After 36 years of marriage, after raising 2 children, packing books and household for 11 moves, 5 universities, putting him through school, playing the hostess and active faculty wife, I find myself, age 60, dumped for the latest young graduate student. Needless to say, I am angry, hurt, feeling the victim, and worst of all left without a fair retirement. Dr. D. might want a statistical study of how many good, solid, strong, righteous wives have been left by professors for the short skirted, young, adoring graduate student (who is, may I add, definately pre-menopausal). Within my workplace site, there are 4 women left by professors at the local university. Within my community of friends, I can name a dozen discarded faculty wives. Does a Ph.D. in literature destroy civilized ethics? Are the hormones too concentrated in the classroom/office?
    The very best laugh? none of these men can perform without Viagra, as all are over age 63 with multiple infirmities. Their new existence with young trophy wives, new toddlers, and yet another mortgage will be short-lived. A script for dark humor, one husband whined to his exwife that he would have to teach into his 70′s to make ends meet. His new wife was costing him too much.
    36 years of marriage – I was completely unaware and am truly devastated. His trips to MLA, papers presented around the country, all were opportunities for trysts. Let Cockmaster D. remember those of us “left behind” by the filandering old farts. We are a community of wives who cry, who have watched our families destroyed, who have lost our expected retirements, and we’ve lost our homes. In pain, we are the little faculty wives, who gave up everything for the damned Ph.D., now victims of an insideous campus culture of sex.

  • mm2017

    I wonder why the students named him after some sex toy. Does he vibrate a lot in class? That would be fun to see. Also, I think the students were being awfully kind to assume that he has a cock. I mean, have any of his students seen it? Like after class, while being mastered truly and deeply with such love. Not rape but brain fucking. Big, big difference. We have to understand that and clarify that. I am getting warm fuzzy feelings because his students were being so kind as to assume that he is capable of violation, i.e. rape. Not everyone can rape you know?

  • mm2017

    I wonder why the students named him after some sex toy. Does he vibrate a lot in class? That would be fun to see. Also, I think the students were being awfully kind to assume that he has a cock. I mean, have any of his students seen it? Like after class, while being mastered truly and deeply with such love. Not rape but brain fucking. Big, big difference. We have to understand that and clarify that. I am getting warm fuzzy feelings because his students were being so kind as to assume that he is capable of violation, i.e. rape. Not everyone can rape you know?

  • Dan s.

    I’m a bit put off by Prof. Deresiewicz’s approach. He seems to be asserting a definite connection between cultural trends and reality, a connection that he never once tries to establish. One key question, as Ms. Johnson asks – how common is it for professors to sleep with their students? I admit that accurate statistics would be hard to come by, but if you looked through any public records on divorces, expulsions of faculty, etc, you might be able to get some data that helps you get an idea. You could also survey students, although I admit that getting accurate answers can be difficult.

    A similarly empirical approach could be taken to his claim that the eros of teaching is being confused with the erotic eros. How are these concepts distinguished? When is the intimacy of the teacher-student relationship similar to the intimacy of romantic love? When is the physical intimacy of the teacher-student relationship similar to the physical intimacy of erotic attraction? When are they different?

    These are not questions with obvious, non-trivial answers. Perhaps the experience varies more by the intent of the professor or the student than the nature of the emotions and physical feelings involved. I know that certain ancient greek authors chose to essentialize these distinctions but I would like to see more evidence.

    I liked this essay, but it shows either hubris or a certain lack of respect for those who want, slowly and with great potential for error, to get at the truth of things. In other words, it sounds pretty but lacks substance.

    • Michelle

      What are you even asking?

  • Dan s.

    I’m a bit put off by Prof. Deresiewicz’s approach. He seems to be asserting a definite connection between cultural trends and reality, a connection that he never once tries to establish. One key question, as Ms. Johnson asks – how common is it for professors to sleep with their students? I admit that accurate statistics would be hard to come by, but if you looked through any public records on divorces, expulsions of faculty, etc, you might be able to get some data that helps you get an idea. You could also survey students, although I admit that getting accurate answers can be difficult.

    A similarly empirical approach could be taken to his claim that the eros of teaching is being confused with the erotic eros. How are these concepts distinguished? When is the intimacy of the teacher-student relationship similar to the intimacy of romantic love? When is the physical intimacy of the teacher-student relationship similar to the physical intimacy of erotic attraction? When are they different?

    These are not questions with obvious, non-trivial answers. Perhaps the experience varies more by the intent of the professor or the student than the nature of the emotions and physical feelings involved. I know that certain ancient greek authors chose to essentialize these distinctions but I would like to see more evidence.

    I liked this essay, but it shows either hubris or a certain lack of respect for those who want, slowly and with great potential for error, to get at the truth of things. In other words, it sounds pretty but lacks substance.