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Monday, April 24, 2006

Pilgrimage plus

Hi folks!  Guess where I was this weekend!

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One hint:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes.

And from every shires end . . . you know where those folk wend.  To this place:

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Had I ever been to Canterbury before?  Nope.  I’ve never been to England, period.  It was great, even though I arrived at 8 am on Friday and left at 10 am on Sunday.  I was giving the Journal of American Studies Lecture to the British Association of American Studies, and those of you who remember last week’s virus-related woes will understand that I came this close to cancelling—and leaving the BAAS without a Saturday evening plenary address.  (In which case they would have had to go straight from the afternoon’s last panels to the dinner and disco!) Twenty-four hours before my departure late last Thursday afternoon, I honestly didn’t think I could get on a plane—and didn’t think any of my fellow passengers would want me to get on a plane, either.  But everything went very smoothly, with only a bit of coughing here and there.  Once again, and with feeling, thank you, prednisone.  But also thank you cough syrup with codeine, which is most useful for helping a body negotiate jet lag while suppressing the odd cough here and there.

I pretty much lost all of Friday, because the Obligatory Squalling Infants (two of them!) were stationed only two rows behind me on the flight over, so I slept for only 90 minutes on an overnight flight.  Instead, I read almost everything for the remaining two weeks of my seminar, including Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is just as good the second time around.  (We end the course with it.  That was a good idea, I think.) But on Saturday I got a chance to walk around the town and take a few “holiday snaps,” including this one of some of that barbaric British jargon:

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Please do not leave donations outside the shop when we are closed because it will be fly tipping. “Fly tipping,” of course, is a British term of art for illegal waste disposal, and the sign should probably read, “because it will be regarded as fly tipping.” Then again, performative utterances can do whatever the hell they want, because they’re performative:  it will be fly tipping, because it just will, even if you think of your little donation as an act of charity. 

My favorite Furren Sign is a notice I saw on a bus in Brisbane, Australia in 1999 as I was going to watch my first-ever rugby game (the locals beat Balmain 42-10):  Scholars and children are asked not to occupy seats whilst adults are standing.

Speaking of scholarly things:  I vow not to rest until my books are available in airport vending machines.  Here’s the book-dispensing contraption in Gatwick that gave me the idea:

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If you look carefully, you can find the ubiquitous Dan Brown occupying two spots in the upper right corner—and you can also see Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha amid the mystery and thriller crowd, James Patterson, Tess Gerritsen, Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz, etc.

And now for the “plus” part of this post.  When I returned to the States, I found that Eric Lott had written to the Nation in response to Russell Jacoby’s review of Lott’s new book, The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual.  Always a dicey enterprise, writing to defend one’s book from a hostile review in a forum where the reviewer inevitably has the last word.  And I’ll be dealing with Eric’s work in my own inimitable fashion a bit later on, when I begin My Next Project in a few weeks.  But for now I simply want to note that Jacoby, in his reply to Eric’s letter, writes as follows:

To praise his book is to surrender thinking for hype and jargon. Here is an example of thought à la Lott: “As Linda Zerilli observes in a remarkable diacritics essay, universalism’s comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of postmodern theory—with its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities—to draw up any account of any overarching collective or united front.”

Actually, I do see irony—another English professor who cannot write English—but no thought.

OK, so here’s the deal.  I hereby announce the First Annual Good Reading Contest, in place of Dennis Dutton’s famous Bad Writing Contests of the late 1990s.  Readers are invited to try to improve on the efforts of the perspicacious Mr. Jacoby, and paraphrase the sentence, “universalism’s comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of postmodern theory—with its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities—to draw up any account of any overarching collective or united front.” It’s not really very hard!  All of the words in the sentence are, in fact, English, though admittedly some of them are polysyllabic . . . oops, I mean big.  So let’s all try to figure out just why universalism has made a comeback lately!  And remember, if we can all agree on how best to explain universalism’s comeback, then universalism wins—which means we all win.

Just don’t resort to any unfamiliar terms, and please don’t leave slabs of jargon in the comments.  That would be fly tipping.

Posted by Michael on 04/24 at 08:00 AM
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