How to blag a seminar when you haven’t done the reading
Pray you don’t get picked
It's 9am and you're losing the will to live. Your hangover is killing you and that dodgy kebab you ate six hours ago is threatening to make a swift reappearance. There's a pounding in your head where knowledge should be but as usual, you forgot to do the required subject reading and the mate you normally shares note with is off with fresher's flu AGAIN.
You're therefore stuck for the next hour in some draughty room, hoping desperately your tutor won't pick on you for some thoughts on what you're supposed to have read. They're an expert in the field, you're barely scraping a 2:1 and are struggling to remember what you did last night- let alone the events of 1848.
However, help is at end. Behold are four strategies- road tested to destruction- to help you navigate the pitfalls of a seminar about a subject which you know nothing about.
Strategy #1: Be invisible
This is the most obvious strategy and means you save your husky voice from any additional strain. Sit at the side, out of direct line of sight. Don't make eye contact or acknowledge any social pressure to contribute. Head down, face staring frantically at a wikipedia page on the topic of discussion, if you remain inconspicuous you'll probably (just) make it through with your reputation intact.
Strategy #2: Be a sycophant
In life, you should always confront prejudice, wherever you find it. In academia, you should pander to it. The men and women who make up your uni's various departments are human too- stroke their ego, agree heartily with their views and start every sentence with the words "that's a really interesting premise." Praise their work, laugh at their jokes, suck up to them any chance you get and odds are they'll look favourably upon your lamentable excuses as to why you confused Isiah Berlin with Irving Berlin. Do the same for other students in the class as well- applaud their witterings and nod like a bobblehead any time they say one or more of the following: "juxtapose", "inter-disciplinary", "spheres of influence", "post colonial narrative", "digital disparity" or "patriarchal structures".
Strategy #3: Be reckless
This is by far and away the ballsiest option to take. It is, however, also the most fun. Basically act the exact opposite way to the invisibility strategy. From the start be loud, opinionated and on the offensive. Be like Jeremy Paxman- a seething attack dog waiting to tear waffle apart. Oh what's that Bella from Guildford, you think Plath's confessional poetry gave REAL women a voice? Classic white feminism right there, textbook cognitive bias.
It doesn't matter if it's logical or not- in arts there are no right answers! Pick up any scrap of information you can find about the text in question e.g. year of publication and then attach it to the most anodyne, generalised observation- "yeah well ofc he wasn't in possession of ALL the archival material now was he??" Your peers will hate you but who cares- you only see George from Devon twice a week thanks to six contact hours a week #artslyf.
Amuse yourself. Why not try and see how many Abba song titles you can drop into the conversation? "Of course the American Civil War was all about money (pauses) money (breath) Money was the reason why…" or "Lee met his Waterloo at Gettysburg" and "Mamma Mia were the casualty rates high!" This kamikaze mission has one singular goal- to irritate and baffle your class to such an extent that they'll stop trying to talk to you and just leave you in peace.
Strategy #4: Be a nihilist
Just sit there and when the finger of doom moves to you, unashamedly admit the truth. After all, what's the worst they can do?
Disclaimer: The author would like to point out that this article is intended as light hearted satire and that he always does the reading for all of his seminars. Honest.