Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Before Semiotics

 Jean-Francios RAuzier, Escalier de l'Hotel de Ville

For years, I've been trying to wrap my head around this. 

Right now, I am reading an article in the March 24, 2014 issue of The New Yorker on Literary Theory and a professor named Paul de Man,  of whom I have never heard.  That shows my level of knowledge of literary theory.

Back in 1996, when I was in transition from one place in my community to another, my provincial superior told me I could "study to teach college." She had no idea what this meant, and neither did I.

I had earned my Masters in Liberal Arts in 1977 from the Johns Hopkins University - a program involving evening and summer courses over three years.  As I came to understand in 1996, that was
"before Deconstruction."   Deconstruction is a term and a state of being in literary theory that I still don't have much ability to define, having missed any education in it.   My literary education came from the school of "Form Criticism" which preceded Deconstruction.

Anyway... as I read this article about Paul de Man, I begin to grasp some of the mysteries of Literary Theory.   I do remember, that in 1996, when I began to read the course requirements for the Ph.D. in English from Catholic University, the first course I would have had to take was "Introduction to Semiotics."  I remember my first reaction to the title ( as a poet):  I recoiled!  "I don't want to study Semiotics," I said to myself, "I want to study Yeats' poetry!"  That pretty much sums it up.

In the end, when the woman I talked to at George Washington University told me that it would take me at least seven years to get this Ph.D., because my previous education had been "Before Deconstruction," my provincial superior concluded that I shouldn't do it.  "We can't put on you on the shelf for that long!" I remember her saying.  Especially after I told her that there was no guarantee that I would get a job after all that.

So things worked out differently for me, by the providence of God and the luck of the Irish.

So I have been teaching at the college level since 1996, and at my present university since 1999.
As an adjunct.  That's no problem for me, though working as an adjunct is very difficult for many of my poet friends, young men and women who have no other means of financial support.

So I am reading now about this crisis that literary theory went through 25 years ago, which was 1989.
In 1989, I was teaching high school English full time:  World Literature, Freshman English, and AP English, and not having a clue about this crisis in Literary Theory.  Just let me teach the literature:
Gilgamesh,  Borges'  "The Garden of Forking Paths,"  Pride and PrejudiceA Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch,  Candide...  what a diversity and richness of literature!

Back to this article on Paul de Man...apparently his reputation as a mind-blowing literary theorist was marred by the revelations that during WWII , he was a Nazi collaborator and also a bigamist! 
Somehow these less that theoretical  realities did something unpalatable to his reputation...

Anyway, the article goes on to review this biography of Paul de Man, with all the ups and downs of his life.  A page or so later, it gets to the arrival of Jacques Derrida - the king of Deconstructionism - in America.

I'm not ready to go any further into this tonight.  Hopefully, I will come back to it.

Earlier in the day,  after class and before board meetings,  I was writing a sonnet.

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