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John Rassias: Take it to the Limit

Rassias.jpgI wonder if John Rassias would get tenure today, or even be hired by Dartmouth. Though he is routinely trotted out as one of the College’s superstars, his relations within his own department have not been easy. Why?

As we all know and love, for Rassias literary works do not exist to be dissected in hushed tones on a brightly lit operating table. No abstruse theories for him. Rather, literature is a living, breathing, sweating beast (John would evoke at least three or possibly four other bodily excretions here) with which we must, hmm, engage.

However, en revanche, for many of Rassias’ colleagues over the years, John’s pyrotechnics were just not, well, serious.

But Rassias has his message and it is one that left few of us untouched. Raw meat and spittle and wild exclamations were just a way to teach everyone to let go: John Rassias’ look-you-in-the-eye gospel is that you, too, can get over your fears and be a wildman in your own way.

One day in 105 Dartmouth he put on Giraudoux’s La Guerre de Troie N’aura Pas Lieu (Tiger at the Gates) as a one-man show. And, as always, the performance ended with a crescendo of roiling Rassian emotion. The war did in fact take place, but John went further. As he stood at center stage howling that the battle was on, his student collaborators set off hundreds of firecrackers to the blared background recording of machine guns and artillery. We rose to our feet and we roared, too.

And when he had stopped, and we had settled down a bit, the Eagles’ Take It to the Limit (One More Time) came over the PA system. Rassias had gone to that place again and taken us with him, and we had been moved. To this day, over thirty years down the road, I can’t hear the song without thinking of John Rassias and Jean Giraudoux and a truly great, emotional moment. That’s real teaching.

Addendum: John still runs the Rassias Foundation with his daughter Helene as they seek to spread the Rassias Method far and wide. Though the College does not much like them to compete for alumni dollars, a few bucks to John Rassias will go further than if dropped into the black hole from which new Deans too regularly issue forth.

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