Friday, August 21, 2009

Coming to Terms

An email note yesterday from former student and then faculty chum Chris Meeks set you to thinking because Meeks used the magical word "disappeared." This was the second time in about a week when the word issued forth, the last time coming from Erich Van Lowe, yet another former student who'd found his way through the morass of Hollywood and some category fiction ventures in New York to the faculty. Got you to thinking about the larger concept of The University, particularly a large one, composed as so many large universities are, of colleges within. Although you have at various times worked in such diverse landscapes as newspapers, auction houses, luggage repair, and publishing, the one landscape that truly impressed you is the landscape of the institute of learning. You have variously taught at Antioch, Westmount, UCSB, SBCC (adult ed), and of course, USC, suitably impressed by the bureaucracies of each to the point of forming attitudes about The University in much the same way as you have formed attitudes about other politically endowed institutions, which is to say with the curious admixture of respect for the good that can be wrought and enormous contempt for the displays of hypocrisy, as colorful and popmpous as those occasions when faculty parade about in their regalia, struggling to keep in step while at the same time trying to avoid tripping on the hem of the robe.

It is difficult for you to say which of the institutions where you have and/or still teach have offended your sensitivities most: Westmont, with its professed evangelism and smugness, fits nicely with your outrage against much connected with religion; UCSB, with its fragmented political sensitivities, speaks with eloquence to the political outrage; SBCC, with it's troglodyte bureaucracy, represents in splendid measure the sense one gets of being in rural France rather then in a learning experience. USC is best represented by a campus map with at least one notable error on it and the assessment of a parking kiosk guard that the maps will be used until there are no more of them because "It's no easy thing for a university to change a thing that doesn't work."

No wonder, with so much attitude radiating from you like UV rays looking for a vagrant skin to sunburn, that ENK has observed your passion for writing about the university. No wonder, indeed, that of your story, "The Deconstruction of Professor Erskine," in which said professor found challenging taunts left in his campus mail box, the late John Milton said, "I wish you'd have gone even farther."

Well.


With what is beginning to take shape, you are seeing a combination of colleges transposed to approximately 35th and Figueroa, Los Angeles, CA. It will be called The University, and it will be in serious rivalry with the University toward the west, which you have indeed attended and have an attitude to as well thanks to the small-mindedness on your part of resentment at never having been solicited to teach there. It will be called UCLA.

Back to The University, locus of your teaching activities for these thirty-odd and indeed thirty odd years. Your old self, your character come to life to the point of having been a writer with not merely a fictional list of titles but a character with an actual list of titles, is Lew Lessing. He first appeared in a short story, on his way to becoming your alter ego. Now he, as in fact a number of your students have done, is an adjunct at The University. You are thinking the story to begin with Lew's discovery of a missing grad student. As you were enlisted to do when Cubby Selby was in his death throes, Lew will be called upon to take over classes for Rex Rothenberg (Kenneth Rexroth), who has gone missing.

Thus do you leave Sisyphus's boulder, shoved to the top of the hill while Sisyphus takes a moment to wipe his brow from the exertion.

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