The thunder sounded a day after lightning had struck her down as she was crossing a field on her way home. Her death had aroused the condescendant sympathy she had always received, but her unsuspected celebrity incited a competition between mourners even more anxious to show how close a friend they had been than how much they regretted her death. Obviously they regretted her, nonetheless, as their twisted mouths and distraught eyes revealed, indeed some managed to shed a few tears. They read her poems with a wail that wouldn't have pleased the student who had, at least in my courses, distinguished herself by her suspicion of hysteria and author worship. Although she had taught our children in preschool and we had invited her to our house, we heard of the reading only by chance while listening to WZFM. When we arrived at the auditorium, the presence of Harry Sinkovitch and Jerry Mumpet among the readers startled us. Hadn't they led the pack in the French Department howling for a terminal MA? Jamma, who seldom said anything against anybody, had confided in us that their courses had never tempted her despite the crowds who took them. Between poems, however, Sinkovitch and Mumpet hinted at their friendship with the poetess, along with Priss Chariztky, a young Englishman named Tom and a graduate student named Delly, all three from the English Department. At the middle of the table behind which they sat, presided Elston Howard, the chairman of that department, who looked like a stone soldier and spoke with a hollow voice. So brazenly did the pronunciation of the readers distort the poetry they were reading that we soon left.
Heading for our Volvo, we heard steps and heavy breathing behind us. "I didn't see you until you got up to leave," said Cary O'Sullivan, a distinguished scholar and distinguished professor of English. The students liked him so much that they would rather have a bad grade from him than a good one from another professor. The faculty liked him too, except for Elston and the youthful majority of the department who supported him. Cary had committed the sin of publishing extensively in the field of "rightnow" American poetry, as he called it, without paying any attention to the critical doctrines they advocated. Thus they had decided to keep him and the other fuddy-duddies in the department from contaminating the graduate students. Administrators admired the skill with which Elston had maneuvered Cary and his friends into the offices at the west end of the corridor on the fifth floor of Murkington Hall, where graduate students and young faculty couldn't visit them without detection. People were calling the enclave West Berlin and the chairman of the department, EH. Hearing of these
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nicknames by way of Prickly Hembrake's lips and Priss Charitzky's ear, Elston blamed them on Cary and decided to punish him at the first opportunity.
Cary had never heard of Jamma before he received the flyer announcing the reading, so we invited him for a drink. When we told him that she had published her poetry on the Internet, he admitted that he hadn't gotten around to that yet. Murma and I had been using the internet, we told him, but we hadn't heard anything about her poetry either. I had made her acquaintance years ago when she was an undergraduate and took courses from me. I had noticed sparks of intelligence and fervor, more often in my office than in class and more often in term papers than on tests. After a major in French, she entered our graduate program and took two more courses from me including my Voltaire seminar. Alone and therefore in vain, I pleaded with the rest of the departmental faculty to let her pursue a PhD, but friends and enemies alike objected that the grades on her MA exam and her coursework averaged below the level at which we made exceptions. Though inclined to sympathize with her, Millie Barnes joined others in complaining that she seldom participated in class discussions and, when asked a question, took too much time before resorting to a desperate answer that made Millie wonder whether she had understood it. A modest student with deliberate intelligence, I replied, often achieved profounder thought than a conceited ass with glib facility. While friends like George Mayflower hesitated between their convictions and their respect for mine, Sinkovitch thundered against weak students who tried to slip through the program by avoiding tough courses, while Mumpet jerked his head up and down, hissing "yesss! yesss!..."
Cary: "Do Mumpet and Sinkovitch teach tough courses?"Murma and I laughed.
Despite the excess and distortion of the reading, a few phrases from Jamma's poetry haunted Murma and me. The readers had mentioned an internet address: sh.com? That turned out to be Shanghai, so I varied the spellings and extensions until I reached shshsh, an austere home page with the phrase "even sound needs silence" at the top. "Poetry by Cicada" followed, then links to three collections: Friends, Lovers and Clouds. As we browsed ___________________________________________________________
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through them, we found much that reminded us of Jamma while revealing how little we knew her. We found nothing in Friends that echoed our phrases, but Lovers began to satisfy our curiosity right from the start. Sinkovitch had rolled his eyes across the ceiling when he recited "the canopy of my intertwining limbs" which we discovered in a poem entitled "The Me Tree." Since the phrase appeared in Lovers, we guessed that he had interpreted it as an expression of self-love and hence homosexual love, which seemed legitimate to us. Yet the many allusions to the tree's contact with its environment persuaded us that the poetess had gone much further in identifying its lovers. She described the wind caressing or slapping its leaves, its roots slipping or driving into the soil, vines slithering up its trunk and clinging to its bark by their barbs, squirrels embracing and clawing its branches, birds making their own love and plucking twigs to build their nests. These metaphors could scarcely have escaped Sinkovitch, but we wondered whether he had also noticed the subtle parallels between them and the conception of personal identity indicated by the title. "Who am I?" the poetess was asking. "I am the lover and the beloved of every living thing that my senses perceive, and yet love is a struggle between pleasure and pain."
We found another of our phrases further on in a poem entitled "My Might Have Beens." Mumpet had recited "The embracing power of my members" with a relish that reminded us of his urge to add the freedom of sex to the Bill of Rights. He had stressed every word in the poem that he could interpret as supporting an amendment to this effect. Yet he had ignored the conflation of the mistress embracing her lover with the mother embracing her children. The poetess was addressing the descendents that she might have had as well as the men who could have engendered them. She was lavishing her passion on an entire family who couldn't hear because they had no ears. A survivor might have used the same language even though he had enjoyed the company of those he regretted. "My Might Have Beens" complemented "The Me Tree" by explaining how a young woman endowed with an extraordinary capacity for love had resorted to her sensual experience for lack of the superficial traits that appeal to the reproductive instinct in the opposite sex. Curiously, therefore, Sinkovitch and Mumpet had stumbled over the two poems in Lovers that enlightened us the most about her and yet without realizing their biographical importance.
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When we finished Lovers, we hesitated between Clouds and the clock, which reminded us that we had a busy day tommorrow. We tried to put our curiosity to sleep, but the discovery of a Jamma we had never suspected kept waking us up. No sooner did I fall asleep than Murma said: "I wonder why she..." and we wondered why. Then she fell asleep and I succumbed to a similar temptation: "I think she..." and we thought it out loud. Then it was her turn: "You remember when..." and we remembered when. On and on it went and the red numbers in the alarm clock window kept warning us that we were wasting more and more of tommorrow before it had even begun. How could we put an end to this folly? The tactics to which we had resorted in earlier years would do more harm than good, so we tossed and turned... We had exhausted the subject, or so we thought, before the body finally numbed the mind for its own good.
When you first saw Jamma, you couldn't help noticing her "weight problem," a euphemism I wouldn't have resorted to if her struggle hadn't been heroic. She bulged and sagged in all the worst places and increasingly as the years went by, despite relentless dieting and exersize. The dieting, which threatened her mental and physical health, only seemed to make the bulges sag, while the exersize, which exhausted her, hardened them into useless ugly muscle. On the occasions when I saw her eat, she hardly ate anything and struggled to keep her eyes away from the food and the other diners. If her neighbors tried to make conversation, she gave them little encouragement. Waiting for an answer to a friendly question embarrassed them as much as the asking had embarrassed her. She seldom saw much to smile at and even less to laugh at, but, even when she did, her face, which bulged and sagged as much as the rest of her, didn't easily wreath into the expression that distinguishes us from the other animals. Her lips curved naturally downward, her eyes had no sparkle and her brows peaked with anxiety if not suspicion. I happened to drive by as she was jogging one day. Everything was bouncing and swinging while her thighs rubbed against each other and her feet flopped on the ground. Her determination was driving her at a pace that resembled a stumbling walk. The desperation in her face persuaded me to drive on as if I hadn't recognized her. Prickly Hembrake had started a rumor: "Miss Hipp raises the water level a quarter of an inch when she plops into the pool at six in the morning." A frown from Dean Furlock, who slipped into the next lane at the same time, silenced the pipsqueak professor of Comp Lit for an entire week.
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Jamma's readers, who had known her best, had known her only by the electronic communication of her poetry and thus without the distraction of her body. Fortunately, she hadn't lived to witness the travesty of her spirit perpetrated on the pretext of having known her in the flesh. Our consternation had scarcely subsided when I received a call from a voice my age, who told me that he was Jacob Skullthorp:
"You were Jamma's favorite professor."
A woman's voice added something."Yes, the only professor she felt at ease with and we would really like to meet you if you have the time."
Our conversation reminded me of Jamma's love for "my Dad," words she had uttered with fervor, and I realized that I was talking with a man who would be my friend for the rest of our lives. He and Muriel were anxious to receive Murma and me in Jamma's appartment, where they faced more than the usual problems with the succession of an independent, unmarried daughter. We had never entered 327 Tree Shadow Mews nor, to our surprize, had her parents, whom she had discouraged from coming to see her. She had always insisted that East Dalrymple, a fishing village near the mouth of the Lipisquoit, was heaven compared to Concordia. A few days in our town had disabused her parents, for they found it different from theirs but just as pleasant and they realized why Jamma had never moved back. "She brought books with her for vacations," explained Muriel, a gaunt woman with a squeaky voice. Jacob was tall, thin, stoop-shouldered: "She forgot our problems when she came back here." Neither Murma nor I mentioned the rusty white van we had seen outside with "Lipisquoit Repair" in big black letters on the sides and underneath in smaller letters: "Mechanical, Electric, Electronic," and further underneath in still smaller letters: "Don't throw it away, let us repair it, it will work like new." We would learn that Jake took too much pride in keeping this promise to make enough money for trips to Concordia. Only new things make a lot of money.
Jamma's apartment revealed more about her than we had ever guessed. Loaded with books, shelves up to the ceiling lined the walls in the living-dining space and the two bedrooms, the larger of which was her study. She had even crammed narrower ones into the bathroom and kitchen for overflow. Behind her desk, we found a half-empty one reserved for her
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most recent purchases and the books she was borrowing from the university and town libraries. An antique IBM PC sat on her desk along with a telephone installed by Zenia Bell before the breakup of AT&T. Two metal filing cabinets stood beside the desk with several boxes of 5¼" diskettes stacked on top of them. Suddenly Murma looked down at her ankle, which a gray cat was caressing with its emerald eyes turned up at her as if to see if she appreciated it.
Jake: "That's Jamma's cat."
Muriel: "We don't know how to say its name."Once they had showed it to us in writing, I explained that Ombre meant shadow in French and Murma taught them how to say it.
"He's a nice cat," purred Jake, which Ombre would confirm later by meowing at the balcony door.Me: "Why do you suppose cats like my wife?"
"Ombre likes her because she's Jamma's friend," explained Jake smiling."Here he is," said Murma admiring a photo on the wall in the study opposite the desk. Ombre was sitting on a sidewalk watching the camera with his head tilted and his tail curling at the tip behind him.
"I bet his tail was twitching," I remarked.
Muriel: "Jamma took that picture before she left for her freshman year."
Jake: "I gave her an old Zeiss Ikon I had repaired. What a wonderful lens!"Seventeen years younger, the couple were standing behind Ombre looking down at him. Jake was smiling and Muriel was not. Behind them stood the repair shop and, on the second floor, their living quarters. In the background, you could see sheds, a wharf, fishing boats and the river spreading out into the ocean.
"Happy times!" exclaimed Jake with a catch in his throat.
Muriel had tears in her eyes.Jamma had bought unfancy, unfinished furniture and varnished it herself. Had she kept the place that tidy or had Muriel put everything in order?
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Muriel saw the look in Murma's eyes: "All I had to do was dust and run the vacuum cleaner."
Jake: "The radio and record-player work as well as they did when I gave them to her."
Jake: "I couldn't find anything to fix."Folded corners, underlinings, marginal marks and remarks as well as wear and tear demonstrated that Jamma had read and often reread most of her library. You had to hold some of the dictionaries and other reference works on the rotating bookcase beside her desk together with your hands. The missing subjects intrigued Murma and me. We found nothing about religion
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and theology except a Jersualem Bible and anthologies of Augustine in Latin and Luther in German. Among the meager examples of current trends, such as critical theory, Freudian and Marxist criticism, feminism, "queer theory," muticulturalism, etc., only one volume had been entirely read. Anger, sarcasm and scorn blackened the margins of La Grammatologie by Derrida, scolded for wasting Jamma's time and reminded that she was only plowing through his nihilistic conundrums so nobody could accuse her of shooting from the hip. This comment gave Murma and me a laughing fit that embarrassed all four of us, so I explained that Jamma had exposed a charlatan.
There were few plays, novels,
biographies, histories and recently published books, but a glance at Jamma's
library receipts, which she had filed in shoe boxes, showed that she had
been borrowing such works from the local collections ever since her sophomore
year. When struck by lightning, she had been returning from the university
library with an armful of books about the Tadzhiks after taking another
armful on the steam locomotive back to the city library. In-between, she
had spent a few hours in the Mayview Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading
the recently acquired manuscripts of Betina Rutherford, who had attacked
slavery so violently that family and friends persuaded an editor to keep
asking her for them as if he wished to publish them. Instead of destroying
them as they had requested, however, he kept them in an attic waiting for
a trend that would ensure extraordinary sales. Jamma's notes, which expressed
her enthusiasm over Rutherford's courage and her outrage over the conspiracy
that had betrayed her, fascinated the four of us.
Jake: "This may be the first time anybody but Jamma sat at this table."
Muriel: "I wonder if she ever let anybody else in the apartment."Murma: "And yet she kept it as if she were expecting guests."
Me: "Maybe she was expecting us."
Muriel: "What should we do with her things?"Me: "Has anybody spoken to you about them?"
Jake: "There were lots of calls when we first got here."____________________________________________________________
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Muriel: "None of them were on Jamma's list."
Jake: "Professor Mumpet called twice: do you know him?"Murma and I exchanged glances.
Me: "I'm afraid we do. What did he want?"
Jake: "Well, he tried to convince me that he had been a friend of Jamma's."Me: "I thought highly of her. Would you mind telling me what Mumpet said?"
Jake: "No. He offered his condoleances. I thought he was laying it on a little thick. Then he told me about his esteem for Jamma as a student."Murma and I protested, and I enlightened them.
Murma: "Maybe you should ask Muriel and Jake not to repeat that."
Me: "Sure, it's supposed to be confidential, but Mumpet thinks the rule only applies to other people."
Muriel: "Jake didn't trust him anyway. He can come to the funeral if he likes."Me: "He asked about them?"
Muriel: "Jake told him that we hadn't decided."
Jake: "I wanted to tell him we didn't need any advice. That wouldn't have been true: we need your advice."Me: "We will try to give you the best we can. I think Jamma's apartment and library should be kept as they are and, at least for the time being, where they are. They should be open to scholars, students and anybody else who is interested."
Jake: "I like that idea."Me: "The posthumous identification of your daughter with a poetess who had already won considerable acclaim is raising tremendous interest and enthusiasm. Her succession is an opportunity the university can't afford
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to neglect and, if it doesn't buy the property soon, other universities, libraries and foundations may well compete for it."
Murma: "Maybe that would be in Muriel and Jake's interest."
Jake: "There would be risks."
Muriel: "Jamma wouldn't have liked it."Me: "I agree with both of you, but you will probably want to discuss it with each other. Would you mind if I called Dean Furlock and President Softack tommorrow?"
Murma: "Let Wilma call Softack."
Jake: "That would be kind of you."
Muriel: "It would be the best thing we could do for Jamma."
"As usual," said Softack, "the only problem is finding the money."
Wilma: "What a wonderful opportunity to make amends for terminating an MA whose talent we had overlooked!"
"Well?""Well," I objected, scratching my head.
"Good for you! Two likely donors come to mind.""Since I will retire in a few years, let me brag about my opposition to this blunder, although I hardly realized that I was defending a famous poetess.""Were you the only one?""Yes, I was."
"If one or both agreed, you could apply for a matching grant from the Filippi Foundation.""Yes!" Softack looked at me: "What should we call it?"
I shrugged: "The Jamma Skullthorp Library and Museum?"
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"Sounds good to me."
"Me too, and I like the idea of leaving it where it is. Every time I try to assign empty space, someone protests that he has authorization to use it for something else."
"I will take care of that with Ace [local Republican chairman]. Any idea how much it will cost?""How about zoning?""I will talk to Bessie [the mayor]. We aren't going to sell anything, but the Republicans don't like any expansion by the university."
"Chicken feed compared to a DNA laboratory."
"I had always assumed that poets were messy.""The rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Tree Shadow Mews must be a few hundred a month. The rare book library, the music library, Buildings and Grounds could send people to evaluate the contents. There aren't any antiques as far as I can see, but nearly everything is in good condition. She kept it that way."
"Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Jamma would have changed your mind."
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pretty appearance the undertaker had somehow managed to give the body from which she had departed. Nobody bothered to count, but as many as two thousand mourners may have filed pass the open bier. Sheila Wilcox, whose father, a ZU president, had left her two plots in the old university graveyard, had insisted that Jamma be buried in the one reserved for the husband she had never married. As the grand old lady of ZU walked to the grave banging her cane on the flagstones, the crowd parted ahead of her like the waters of the Red Sea. Her arrival went according to plan, but not her recitation of a poem from Jamma's Clouds, which she had discovered three years ago and learned by heart for the occasion. She recited it in a booming voice that made many of us regret that she hadn't done the reading all by herself. The glance I exchanged with Murma confirmed that we could put Clouds off no longer.
That evening, we returned to shshh, I clicked on Clouds and paged down 'My Volatile Self." Sheila's contralto echoed in our ears as we read:
"I wallow in the sky,
Caressed, pushed and pounded
By the capricious winds;
My ever creative,
Moves, expands and contracts,
Reshapes and resizes,
Breathing hot and cold air,
Absorbing the moisture
And building electric
Muscles, until, swelling
And writhing, my white mass
Blackens and, condensing,
Water pours through the air,
Blazing paths of moisture
For the jagged flashes
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That destroy my victims."
The Skullthorps returned to East Dalrymple with a check for $25 000 and a contract for 10% of the proceeds from the sale of Jamma's poetic works by the ZU Press. I had advised them against yielding exclusive rights to any institution or publisher for less than $50 000 and 15%, thus provoking the outrage of the university and especially Marvin Spratly, the publisher of the ZU Press. The Skullthorps could easily obtain both figures, I assured them, if they organized a competition. I refrained from warning them about Spratly preaching academic ideals and practicing subsidized commercialism. None of the fields in which his press specialized had much to do with contemporary poetry, although he anticipated the objection by touting his paperback series of lake country romantics. Opposed as usual by nearly everybody, including Wilma, I asked the Skullthorps if they would mind if I asked other universities and presses whether they might be interested. A half hour later, Jake called back and said that he and Muriel had decided against it because they felt that Jamma wouldn't have liked it. They were right about that, of course, but I didn't trust Marvin and the idea of a university exploiting the poetry of a student whose talent it had failed to recognize put me in such a bad humor that it took Murma a few days to sooth it away.
Only after the Skullthorps had left did I learn that Jake had asked Wilma to let me edit Jamma's poetry and supervise the library and museum. I was working on several projects that would have kept me busy for a year or two, so I had suggested that three promising young people, a scholar, a librarian and an administrator, be given what I considered three separate jobs. My appointment angered old enemies and made new ones, especially in
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English. Cary warned me that a delegation from his department would approach me with suggestions and proposals I wouldn't like. He had heard of it only through hearsay. Led by Priss Charitzky, it included Tom Sprinkle and Delly Cooper, all three of whom had participated in the reading. Their attempt to dress for the occasion implied the conviction that I was a fuddy-duddy. Priss was wearing a dress with large copper and bronze leaves fluttering down over it, although we were in spring. Now in her low forties, she looked her age and yet much as she had ten years earlier, a look that I would describe as shriveled like an apple trying not to rot. A graduate student, Delly wore a low-cut dress with a mini-skirt the same color as Ombre which exposed her fat upper and lower parts. Since her high-heel shoes bulged along the sides, I wondered whether she had borrowed them from a friend with bigger feet. She kept tossing her chemical blond hair away from her shoulders which it apparently itched. An assistant professor, Tom had inherited a navy blue pinstripe, tailored by Burton's, from a broader-shouldered father. Mermaids splashing among the lillies in an algae pond decorated his wide tie. He had given his brown wingtips a shine, but the polish had stained one of his white socks.
If I had told them that the Screen Guild was in Room 753 (Goldstein's office), they wouldn't have understood the joke. When I first began to teach at ZU, I dressed carefully, wearing dark suits from Brooks, where Murma and I hesitated and deliberated over the color, the cut, the size and especially the alterations. The salesmen (all men in those days) must have thought we were fussy for our age and budget, but they had the wisdom and patience of their establishment. I wore nothing but white shirts, which Murma laundered and ironed as if she were going to wear them herself. It took us two half-hour visits to Hermès to buy a few ties, which blended perfectly with my other colors. My shoes and accessories received similar attention despite the burden on our budget. Yet I soon perceived that our efforts had achieved little more than association with administrators like Gretchkow and professors like Goldstein. My appearance attracted attention without exersizing any influence, so we went downstairs, floor by floor, from Brooks to L. L. Bean. Sport coats and slacks replaced the suits, turtleneck pullovers replaced the shirts while the ties hung idly on the rack, then sweaters replaced sport coats and the colors faded to brown and gray. Every flight down the stairs shifted more attention away from how I looked to what I said, so Muma packed my Brooks best away as carefully as if they
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had historic value and reproduced them with an odor of mothballs when an occasion, such as our children's marriages, justified them.
Trained to intone authority, my visitors' voices dignified the nonsense they expected me to believe. They spared no diplomacy insinuating that their department had exclusive competence in the study of poetry in English. While acknowledging my responsibility for the museum, the library and the edition of Skullthorp's poetry, they suggested that professors and graduate students in English could provide all the expertise I needed for all three projects. My smile may have revealed more of my skepticism than it hid: "Who do you have in mind?" The two younger people were embarrassed, but Priss explained that Tom specialized in twentieth century poetry and that Delly was preparing a dissertation directed by him. Priss herself, she reminded me, had dedicated herself to the women romantics. Having asked Tom about his research, I learned that he had written his dissertation and submitted an article on T. S. Eliot. "Anything else?" I asked. He was contemplating an anthology of Eliot and his contemporaries. "Then, nobody more recent, nobody American?" My curiosity inspired two minutes of parallels between Eliot and Skullthorp that reminded me of a wisp of smoke tugged and twisted by competing puffs of wind. Once he had finished, I gazed at him trying to remember anything I had read in Jamma's poetry that corresponded to his allusions. This treatment embarrassed him and annoyed Priss, so it must have enraged EH when they reported it to him. Of the remaining victims, I decided to spare the easy one and give the tough one a good spanking:
"You didn't mention Cary O'Sullivan."
Delly stopped tossing her hair.
Priss: "Oh Cary is busy with other things.""He recently published a book and some articles on living American poets."
"Nothing particularly about women.""He devoted two chapters to them."
Shrug: "Mother Hubbards!""They have and raise children, do the housework and somehow manage to write poetry too."
"Conventional and subservient stuff that reassures uncritical readers.""I don't remember Jamma Skullthorp attacking feminine convention and
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subservience in her poetry. I don't remember any disdain for uncritical readers."
"You haven't even done any research on French poetry in the eighteenth century.""No, I haven't, but I have done enough on other subjects to see the wisdom of your advice and enlist the aid of a learned specialist in current American poetry."
"Your edition of Skullthorp's poetry will lack the most advanced scientific methodology. That will make it hard to sell: I wonder whether Marvin will accept the manuscript.""I will ask Cary if I am correct in assuming that the words scientific methodology in your sentence really mean theoretical speculation. I think Spratly already knows that, if he hesitates to publish our edition, I will approach other publishers. Poetry will always interest more readers than the acrobatics of trend artists who use it as a trampoline."
"You are introducing partisan rhetoric in an issue that interests a broad spectrum of the ZU community. Shame on you! Shame on you!""Did I insinuate that one of the most distinguished scholars in my department is ignorant of the most advanced scientific methodology? I would rather have weapons as lethal as his before challenging him to a duel."
"You must be out of your mind!""Priss: Do you know how many courses Jamma took from the English Department during her six years of matriculation?"
"I can't think of anything more irrelevant.""She took two required undergraduate courses: English Composition and the American Novel. The instructors who taught them are not even here any more."
"So you are going to tell me how many she took in French: she was a French major, she did her MA in French. Did she write her poetry in French?""Why do you suppose her parents insisted on making me responsible for everything ZU does with their daughter's succession?"
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"I suppose you told them a pack of lies so you could grab her succession for yourself.""I don't think you would say that unless you were very angry."
"Are you going to tell me what I can say?""No, but I am going to tell you that you don't speak the same English as Jamma Skullthorp."
Hardly did Priss leave this remark unanswered, but I can't remember what she said, preoccupied as I was with dusting the table after they had left and they left promptly. I knew Murma would ask whether I had removed the dandruff. She guessed nearly everything that had happened almost as soon as I began to tell the story and listened only to refute any optimism she detected in my remarks. My age, sex, scholarly reputation and hostility to the trends Priss advocated as well as the presence of a younger colleague and a graduate student had certainly aggravated the humiliation I had inflicted on her. Resentment would inspire an account of our quarrel that confirmed EH's worst suspicions and the disappointed witnesses would confirm every accusation. My intention of inviting Cary to collaborate with me would breach the wall EH was trying to build around West Berlin. Since I had refused to negotiate with his emissaries, he would try to force me to make the concessions I had rejected. No sooner had Cary agreed to supervise the edition of Jamma's poetry than EH persuaded Softack to offer him a place in a delegation of ZU professors he was sending on a tour of Chinese universities during the summer. Cary had always wanted to see China, so we drew up a preliminary plan that would accommodate his month-long absence: Murma and I would survey the material stored on computer disks and in the file cabinets. Solomon Grosser from the rare book library, where another quarrel had weakened EH's influence, would inventory Jamma's library, which he had already appraised for the university. Emily Chan, a professor at the University of Michigan who had written her dissertation for Cary, would assemble and assess all extant versions of Jamma's poems, some of which Murma and I expected to find on disk or paper. Edie Prak, the music librarian who had evaluated Jamma's record collection, would inventory it and compile an index of references to music in her poetry and other writings. We planned to hire three young people to help with these tasks and provide clerical support.
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We wanted to initiate this preliminary stage of the project before Cary left for China. With Softack's approval, Wilma had promised us the funding we needed to pay the helpers and reimburse Emily for her travel and residence expenses. It took the six of us a week to draw up a proposal, which Cary and I submitted to Abe Yearly, the Dean of Research Support. Since the president had endorsed the project, Abe told us, he would review our proposal at once and give us a call by the end of the week. He put one of his big hands on each of our shoulders as he followed us out of his office: "There shouldn't be any problems: you guys have been around." Precisely because we guys had been around, his reassurance worried us. He took pride in being everybody's friend and the greater the friend's influence, the greater his pride. He owed his deanship to a desire to please everybody and a skill in maneuvering opposing parties into a compromise more convenient than useful. Leaving Laniel Hall, Cary and I turned down the sidewalk and, without any particular intention, stopped at a statue that students and faculty loved to ridicule. I leaned on the girl's shoulder and Cary, on the boy's arm. The couple were holding hands and running over grass with grins on their faces. The wind swept her hair back from her cheeks and pushed her skirt against her thighs, raising it enough to show the lace fringe of her petticoat. He had a crew cut and his muscles bulged through his polo shirt and slacks. The need for a successful alumnus had moved the recently founded ZU School of Fine Arts to commission a work by Thaddeus Crandal in 1954 and his "Co-Ed Couple" had enhanced his reputation as the Norman Rockwell of sculpture. A tall girl with a complicated camera appeared and asked whether we would mind if she took our picture. Cary and I looked at each other: no, we wouldn't mind, so she took two to make sure: "Thank you. You will be on the front page of the Advocate tommorrow."
"Did you just happen to be walking by with your camera?""No, Sir. Dean Furlock called the Advocate and they sent me. She said to tell you please to come and have coffee with her in her office."
Cary and I turned and saw that we were standing thirty yards in front of the window faced by Wilma when she sat at her desk."Sir, who were Mutt and Jeff?"
Cary and I looked at each other and laughed: "There's Mutt," I said, pointing at him."
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He pointed at me: "There's Jeff."
Me: "They will think of it themselves."
"You had a smile: they will decide whether it was silly."Cary: "Did we have a silly smile on our faces?"
"We just submitted our budget to Abe.""And, patting you on the shoulder, he promised to call by the end of the week."
"What is this? The FBI?"Wilma laughed: "I hope you don't think I'm that dumb."
"Can you guys keep two secrets?""EH will get to him before then."
"How come everybody is calling us 'guys'?"
"Gretchkow will buttonhole Abe as they leave the Windsor Room after lunch tommorrow. He will be curious about your budget.""Do we look like students?"
Cary and I laughed."I will catch EH after the Agenda Committee meeting the day after tommorrow and, as we approach the fork in the sidewalk, with the Laniel parking lot in one direction and the Murkington in the other, I will ask him why graduate students who are not writing their dissertations for professors in West Berlin receive practically all of your travel grants to read papers at professional meetings. 'Are they the ones most likely to interest scholars?'"
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"So do I, but, as you know, competition with other universities forced us to adopt this policy. I will tell EH that your honest opinion is no excuse for him to deprive the best students in English of this opportunity.""Bravo! But he will tell you that West Berlin opposed grants for this purpose on the grounds that few if any graduate students can do research of interest to scholars.""I agree."
"Of course. You won't hear from him by the end of this week, so call him early on Monday and, if he puts you off on some clever excuse, call me. It will take a while to grind him down, but your budget will be approved.""Please do that. But it won't stop him from telling Priss to tell Prickly to tell Abe that the English Department has the right to review the budget of a project involving English studies.""And Abe will indulge his passion for shuttle diplomacy."
Five was already a crowd in Jamma's apartment and, when Emily joined us, we were turning sideways to pass each other in doorways and the hall. Although Cary made a tight squeeze, he enjoyed our contortions, guiding us by words and waves like an Italian truck driver when a village pinched the road. From Cary in his late sixties to Edie in her mid-twenties, we had a joyful time working together. Edie, who looked like a string bean, got Cary's permission to snap his suspenders -- which were red that day -- just as her grandad had let her do. Not only did Ombre caress all the ladies' calves, but he also played tricks on us, such as jerking the cord when somebody had the phone to his ear, lying down on the paper somebody was reading, parading back and forth across the table over which we were talking. Holding some slides up to the light, Murma felt something tickling her nose: Ombre's tail. Emily sat on the edge of her chair and Ombre would jump up behind her, reach around her waist and paw at the things she kept on her lap. Nothing small was safe near the edge of a table, counter or shelf. When Solomon took some books down from a shelf, Ombre would leap into the space and look down on us, his head tilted and the tip of his tail twitching. Kit and Handy, a young couple with a motorcycle who lived downstairs, were taking care of him when we weren't there. Kit had a round face and wore her hair in a long pigtail down her back, except when she
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pulled it around front. We wondered whether Handy had ever had a haircut or trimmed his beard. Ruddy cheeks and little blue eyes. Both had an inexhaustible supply of good humor. Jamma had been such a good neighbor that they didn't mind the wierd music she was playing.
We had agreed to let Murma concentrate on Jamma's e-mail, which would keep her busy. For fourteen years, the poetess had been sending and receiving messages, both of which she had stored on disk. She answered all of them that came from readers and, as more and more wrote her, the correspondence grew at an increasing rate. Murma had found 1734 condoleances in her online buffer after Jake asked Concord, Jamma's internet service provider, to let us have access to it. Addressed to her survivors, whoever they may be, these messages ranged from traditional formulas of sympathy and regret to elaborate compositions, many of them in verse; from scribblings in awkward English, due to a poor education or a foreign background, to elegant or even fastidious letters. Despite the variety, nearly all had one thing in common: sincerity. They knew nothing of Cicada except the language she used and they had learned her identity with Jamma Skullthorp only when they heard of her death. Who had discovered this identity? Nobody seemed to know. One day, the local press mentioned the death of a young woman struck by lightning; the next, the national press was mourning the loss of America's most famous internet poetess. As usual, there were rumors purporting to explain how the news orginated: 1. Jamma had a secret lover in Concordia who knew she was Cicada and he made an anonymous telephone call to a reporter. Yet no reporter acknowledged having received such a call. 2. Cicada had addressed a poem to one of her admirers, prophesying that lightning would strike her down on the day and at the time when it happened. Yet neither the admirer nor the poem could be found. 3. A preacher in Nevers, who persistently railed against the nearby Babylon, had cursed its devil daughter and, having heard his prayers, the Lord struck her down. Although the Rev. Cecil Carstens denied this rumor, some who had heard a sermon or two of his, more out of curiosity than conviction, found that he was always cursing some sinner, who might be anybody he didn't like, in terms that would suit any accident that might happen. Everybody who wanted to believe one of these explanations did so, but we assumed that mystery had as usual inspired speculation in all three cases. On the other hand, Murma's survey of Jamma's e-mail revealed a correspondence between Cicada
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and Firefly that had lasted eleven years, evolving from a mutual love of poetry to a love affair between them.
I showed Emily a dozen versions of "The Me Tree" which Jamma had written over a period of three years. They reminded me of a Portuguese stone mason I had seen building a dry wall one summer. He would inspect a space at the unfinished end of the wall, turn his bald head this way and that, stick his fingers into the crannies; rummage through the clinking stones in his pile looking for the right size and shape, pick one up, turn it over and around exploring it with his fingers, but, shaking his head slightly, put it back and look for a better one; choosing another one, he would try it, pushing, pulling and shaking it; still unsatisfied, he would take it out and look for another. Somehow the right stones fitted the right holes, the new section of the wall rose to the height of the old and the wall grew steadily longer. Once, as the mason sought a stone to fit a hole, a horsefly alighted on his pate, which glistened in the sun, but he didn't even seem to notice. The fly was strutting around looking for a place to bite, when the mason found the right stone and lodged it in the wall. Only then did his hand fly up and slap the fly, which fell dead to the ground. Without even looking, he was already inspecting his next hole. Although we had exchanged greetings when I first arrived, I assumed he had forgotten me. Having discovered a stone that particularly interested him, however, he smiled at me with a gap in his teeth. Then he moved back a yard along the completed wall and disassembled a section of it to replace a stone by the one he had found. Since he had been working on this section when I arrived, I glanced at my watch: "It took you a half hour to build a yard of wall: did it seem like a long time?"
"No. Did it seem long to you?""No, but that half hour of wall will outlast you and me. I will never forget your building it."
He scratched his head: "I will always remember you watching me and telling me that."I told Emily the story: "Jamma chose and tried her words just as your stone mason chose and tried his stones, but she left us many versions of the same wall and we can see how she changed the stones from one to another."
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We didn't hear from Abe at the end of the week as Wilma had predicted, so I called him Monday morning and he apologized, explaining that two of his employees had been absent and that he had had to meet with Representative Forthwright. The leader of the Republican majority in the state house had driven up to Concordia on short notice to seek arguments against other members of his party, who were accusing him of too generous a contribution to the research budget when ZU was squandering money on projects that did nothing for the economy. Abe promised to call me back by the end of the week. I reminded him that he had already made that promise last week and that he had even told us he would approve our budget by then. He laughed: "If I repeated 'God willing' after everything I say, I would sound like an imam." Wilma told me that Abe had omitted the part that would interest us most: EH had persuaded a friend on Forthwright's staff that ZU shouldn't support research by an English professor from Michigan when an English professor at ZU could do the job just as well for free and especially when the subject was a ZU alumna. Wilma told Damon that the Michigan professor had done her PhD at ZU, that the director of the project, for whom she had written her dissertation, was a distinguished professor of English at ZU and that all of the other participants in the project were ZU employees. "Nothing for the economy? How about the sale of five or ten thousand copies of a book?"
"Skullthorp's poetry?""The highly acclaimed work of an out-of-state student who decided to settle in Concordia even though ZU had overlooked her talent."
When Wilma accompanied Damon to his Cadillac, he knew she was saving desert for the end of the meal: "Do you know what they call the west end of the fifth floor of Murkington Hall?"
"I don't even know what's on that floor.""Emily Dickinson and things like that."
"Oh! Well, what do they call it?""West Berlin."
"West Berlin? The wall has fallen."Wilma smiled.
"I'll be damned!""Do you know what EH stands for?"
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"You are always giving me a quiz... Erich Honecker."They never said "goodbye." They just gave each other a smile of complicity. Forthwright drove back to Mapleton with the satisfaction of returning with exactly what he had come for and the urge to give his aide the quiz Wilma had given him.
As usual on Thursday afternoon, I was in my office on the seventh floor of Murkington Hall for the hour between my undergraduate course and my graduate seminar, when Si Goldstein appeared at the door: "May I have a word with you?" Everything about Si, from his manners to his dress, would have seemed too perfect to me even if he hadn't been one of my worst enemies and the chairman of my department, synonyms to which my career had accustomed me. The adjective that summed him up for Murma and me was prissy. To his many admirers and defenders, we had always conceded that he was handsome, charming, subtle, intelligent... maybe too intelligent? We also admitted that he had excellent taste in art and music. Didn't the few who had heard him play the piano consider him an accomplished musician? Once we had made all of these concessions, however, we couldn't ignore his prissiness. Seeing him at my door activated a response conditioned by years of experience: "Si!" I shouted, jumping to my feet. "Come in, have a seat. I haven't seen you in ages. How is your book coming along?" I knew the noise and bustle would embarrass him, not because they were hypocritical, but rather because everybody within earshot would savor the irony. The allusion to his book twisted my knife in his wound since his administrative duties had delayed it. He couldn't have helped resenting my greeting, but he had perfected the art of concealing everything he felt and displaying what he wanted others to perceive, a discipline admired by allies like Mumpet and Sinkovitch. You knew you were out of favor when you seldom saw him or heard from him and could only reach him by trying several times. When he came to see you in your office, however, you were really in trouble because the secretaries could hear the slightest whisper in his office despite closed doors, which he always closed. "Do you mind if I close your door?" he asked me ominously.
The precautions he took in approaching the trouble reminded me of Vauban laying siege to a fortress. I couldn't help smiling, which Si didn't
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like, but my smile widened as his trenches zigzagged towards one of my bastions. By now, you may have guessed that I had caused a scandal by seizing an opportunity I wasn't competent to exploit, while excluding others who were and by engaging people ignorant of Skullthorp's poetry to edit it rather than those who had demonstrated their interest and enthusiasm. My laughter echoed up and down the hall, as George and others told me afterwards. Si cringed slightly. I asked him: "Are you speaking as a professor in the same department with the same rank or as the chairman of the department?"
"The distinction seems articificial to me.""It doesn't to me... Aren't you transmitting a complaint by your friends in French and English, who failed in their attempt to adopt a student ignored by them before her death and to exploit her fame by reading their own ideology into her poetry?"
"No. I am representing colleagues who rightly complain that you have treated them unjustly and that you are exploiting Skullthorp's succession for personal gain.""Well! I see why the distinction between unofficial and official discourse seems artificial to you."
"What do you mean?""I mean that you continue to use your influence as chairman to advance your friends' interests and discourage colleagues you consider your enemies."
"Do you realize what you are saying?""Tell me. I would love to hear you say it."
"Since you refuse to put an end to this outrage voluntarily, I will have to use other means...""Haven't you been using those other means ever since you became the chairman? You will keep my annual raise as low as the dean will let you and that is what you have always done. Fortunately, the dean is fairer than you."
He smiled: "Don't you think your accusation is a little crude?""Would you prefer something cute? Your distribution of raises is so equitable that none of your friends can complain."
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He stood up, reached for the doorknob and said: "I can't wait until the next time you accuse me of avoiding you when you have important questions to ask."The only symptom of his outrage that I could detect as he walked back up the hall was a stiff neck.
What wouldn't EH and his allies try next? As Abe kept us waiting into a third week, I told Wilma I was afraid he had sent EH a xerox of our budget. "Afraid?" she laughed. "Of course he did! He sent him one as soon as he had read it himself. It's strictly against the rules, of course, so he kept it confidential. Don't worry: I have already taken it into account. If you or your friends detect any leaks, tell me right away." Since I was calling from 327 Tree Shadow Mews, I alerted the others at once. Despite the cloud over our budget, we continued to work away merrily, finding, showing, discussing and deciding. A consensus was evolving over the organization of our research and the analysis that would follow. We would be ready to start in a week or two, which would leave Cary a week or two before he left. Meanwhile, we had fallen into a pleasant but laborious routine, accustoming ourselves to arrivals and departures as Cary and I taught our courses and Emily commuted to Ann Arbor for hers. Everybody took a turn driving over to the Seven-Eleven to buy drinks for lunch and even Cary took his for the sake of our "worker's paradise." We also took turns in producing a surprise for lunch: Solomon served us cappuccinos; Emily, egg drop soup -- to prepare Cary for China --; Edie, tortillas -- "Where's the icewater?" yelled Murma -- ; Cary himself, Welsh rarebit -- "Too good to be good for me!" -- Murma, puffs from Penny Hedgecroft's recipe and I, miniature Butterfingers in remembrance of my little boyhood. "Everybody's in a league against me!" exclaimed Cary snapping his suspenders, which were purple and fuchsia that day. When the refridgerator door opened, Ombre inspected the contents and, while we ate, he sat behind Emily waiting for an opportunity. She was elbowing him away from the edge of the table, where he had put his front paws, when the phone rang: Abe asked Cary and me to stop by his office sometime that afternoon.
If he had approved our budget, he would have told us over the phone. I tried to alert Wilma, but Frau Klingelstedt said she was in Mapleton testifying before the House Committee on Higher Education. Evidently Abe had picked that day on purpose. Our budget was "basically sound," he told
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us, but he wanted us to consider the possibility of replacing the three hired workers we had requested by graduate students and young faculty who wouldn't cost anything. Weren't there any who had already begun to specialize in contemporary American poetry? They would do a better job and our project would show how education and research complement each other.
Cary: "No."Abe, congenially: "Are you saying 'no' to part of the proposition or the whole?"
"Everybody always says 'no' first and 'maybe' later on."Me: "Both the whole and all of its parts."
"This time it's going to be different.""There are no current graduate students or young faculty who have already begun to specialize in contemporary American poetry. There is one of each who have been saying they want to for three weeks. As the only scholar on this campus who has published extensively in the field, I can say that I don't want them working for me."
Shocked: "A xerox of your budget? That's against the rules.""Why did you send EH a xerox of our budget?"
"The proposition you want us to consider came straight from EH. Basically is his favorite cliché. Asking someone to consider a possibility is the language he always uses to introduce a measure that he has already taken. When he asked me to consider the possibility of moving to the west end of Murkington Hall, he had already arranged for movers from Buildings and Grounds to help me the next day. Returning to my office, I found some graduate students waiting for me so they could see how much room they would have for their new lounge."
"If you promised EH to get jobs for Tom Sprinkle and Delly Cooper, you will have to renege on your promise. I already turned them down. Let's not even talk about Priss Charitzky."
"We don't need any more chefs in our kitchen. All we need are cooks to carry out our instructions. Besides, EH cuisine?" Cary pinched his nose: "No thanks!"
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Abe was smiling almost as if he liked what we were saying. "Sorry about the cliché! I hear them so often that I repeat them without realizing it. I also plead guilty to asking people to consider a possibility. What else can I say when I face some every day who swear that they are not going to give an inch? Fortunately, most of them are more reasonable than that and, sooner or later, they give two. Otherwise I would lose my job."
"Your budget is confidential just like the others. Saving the university money is part of my job. Let's give it a few more days. I will take another look at your budget and you discuss it with your team. I am sure we can work something out.""You are simplifying: the two inches you are asking us to give are the same that EH wants for himself and he has no right to them. I bet nine of the last ten budgets you approved provided for the same kind of clerical support that we are asking for."
He managed to put his decision off another week, but then Wilma gave him a scare. Some ZU trustees had invited her to have a drink with them after her testimony before the Higher Education Committee. They were considering a possibility too, that of establishing a branch of ZU in East Mammoth, which was across the Quiroga River from Mammoth on the Zenia side. Abandoned factories lined the river front while tentacles of row housing followed the valleys back into the hilly countryside where nothing much grew. Unemployed blacks, hispanics and other ethnic groups, who despised each other as much as they despised the whites "on da udder side," identified themselves with the valley they occupied. Although East Mammoth embarrassed the governments on both sides, the safest politics had consisted in inviting the other side to do something about it. A new airport, a commuter railroad, a stadium... Such projects never seemed either to pick up steam or peter out. Since East Mammoth was in Zenia, however, "da udders," as they called themselves regardless of ethnic distinctions, began to vote (always dangerous!) and their representative, a baptist clergyman, began to make speeches that enraptured the media. Soon the people who decided things on both sides of the river began to talk to each other about doing something together. Since technology had become the solution for all problems, an idea filtered down from the higher-ups to the lower-downs that ZTech or ZU or both should establish a branch
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in East Mammoth. Everybody agreed that higher education was a ski lift to high tech.
WZTV let the broadcasting majors in the School of Journalism have a few hours every week to "do their thing." They in fact called their most popular program "Doing Your thing," a title in which they took such pleasure that we called it "Doing their cute little thing." Cute certainly described the hosting couple, who lavished their smiles and laughs on us in imitation of the professionals they admired. Every week, they invited two kinds of guests, someone important and students qualified to question him. Wilma held the record for most frequent invitations and, after testifying before the House Committee on Higher Education, she appeared on "Doing Your Thing" to answer questions about it. She had a knack for disclosing news that not only interested the public in general, but also implied subtle messages to certain individuals. The opportunities and challenges of establishing a branch in East Mammoth, she said, included staffing it with experienced and capable administrators and professors. This remark must have disturbed those whose skills didn't suit them for such a pioneering adventure and particularly the ones who were making trouble for her. Abe called me the next morning to say that he had finished reviewing our budget and had approved it without reservation. There was jubilation at 327 Tree Shadow Mews.
Declining a promotion to a higher level of the administration usually disqualified you for further advancement. But Wilma's veiled threat, as Cary warned us, would only drive EH underground. His next thrust came from an unexpected quarter and there was no way to prove that it had come from him. I met my Voltaire seminar the next Thursday afternoon and, no sooner had I made my first assertion than an attractive French student named Corinne Verneuil questioned the truth of it. In none of our previous meetings had she done anything like that; on the contrary, she had cooperated with me and the other students in sustaining a constructive discussion. In order for all to prepare for this discussion, I sent them an outline of the plan I would follow by e-mail a few days before we met. This method, which I had been using for several years, had nearly always resulted in willing or even enthusiastic participation. At the previous meetings of the seminar, Corinne had participated in the discussion as
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eagerly as the other students and I would have ranked her third among the seven students. This time, however, I discovered that she had rededicated her skills and efforts to distracting and delaying the rest of us. She challenged me to prove every statement I made and justify every question I asked, so that we steadily fell behind on our schedule. Undergraduate students would have reacted with impatience and anger, but graduate students tend to view such conflicts with curiosity, reserving their sympathy for the winner. When I saw that my explanations only raised further doubts and objections, I turned to the other students, but Corinne was whispering to her neighbor.
For that class, I had assigned the final chapter of Voltaire's Siècle de Louis XIV, which relates the dispute over the Jesuit missionaries' tolerance of ancestor worship by their Christian converts in China. I not only wanted my students to discover for themselves the extraordinary consequencies of this forgotten event, but also the enlightening effect of background knowledge in the study of literature. This background would enable them to understand the complexity of Voltaire's irony: on one hand, he was attacking Christians, Catholics and the Jesuits all three; on the other, he was admitting the intelligence and learning of the order that had given him an education for which he felt indebted. I drew the students' attention to the remark in which he imagined the Chinese emperor's reaction to a decision affecting his empire by a prince (the pope) reigning over another empire thousands of miles away. I soon discovered that Corinne already knew this background, which she had anticipated and studied on her own. The enthusiasm with which the other students reacted when I explained it to them irritated her, so she tried to dampen it by ironical remarks suggesting that they had missed the point. Raising her forefinger in the French manner, then waving it at me, also French but out of place, she finally intervened without waiting for me to call on her to reject the importance I had given the background, the chapter and Voltaire's religious polemic in general. The background concerned an event that had little impact on the contemporary world, the chapter deserved the neglect from which I had tried to save it and the polemic was an impertinent sideshow wasting my students' time. A few of the other students exclaimed, a few laughed and a few gasped, but all watched to see how I would react. I congratulated Corinne on her investigation of the background and regretted that she had come to evidently erroneous and
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apparently preconceived conclusions. Now the class awaited her reaction so she satisfied them by accusing me of trying to dictate to her. She was trying to hit the ball so hard that I couldn't return it and hoping that her fellow students would cheer.
After a long silence, I invited the class to take our usual halfway break, which they always spent smoking in the hall, but I told Corinne I wanted to talk to her. Shutting the door, I took a few more minutes to reconsider conclusions that I had already drawn. Although EH had found a way to turn her against me, he had probably relied on one or two intermediaries to do it. Perhaps Mumpet, who had manipulated graduate students before; Sinkovitch preferred direct action. I hardly recognized Corinne, whose face had hardened into a stubborn hostile glare.
"Eh bien, Madame, auriez-vous envie de vous expliquer?"
"Non, Monsieur, je n'ai rien à expliquer.""Votre conduite me semble effectivement inexplicable."
"Ma conduite?""Oui, votre conduite."
"Que voulez-vous dire, Monsieur?""Je veux dire, Madame, que votre conduite, qui jusqu'à ce jour était louable, a complètement changé."
"Je n'ai pas l'habitude, Monsieur, d'accepter des remarques personnelles.""Elles ne le sont plus dès qu'elles concernent une conduite qui m'empeâche de vous instruire, vous et vos camarades. Je suppose que vous avez décidé de suivre ce cours parce que vous vouliez apprendre quelque chose sur Voltaire. Si vous êtes convaincue que les recherches que je lui ai consacrées m'ont induit en erreur, vous aurez intérêt à l'abandonner."
"... J'en ai besoin.""Mais non, Madame, vous ne croyez pas en avoir besoin. Vous venez de consacrer une heure à me le prouver."
"Je ne comprends rien à ce que vous dites, Monsieur."
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"Tenez, Madame, je vais vous donner un choix: ou vous abandonez le cours tout de suite et j'arrangerai cela avec le 'registrar' ou vous continuez à le suivre aujourd'hui à condition de ne plus rien dire, car n'avez-vous pas déjà dit assez? Dans le second cas, prenez rendez-vous pour me voir dans mon bureau."
"Mais... On n'a jamais... C'est inadmissible!" each at a higher pitch."Décidez, Madame. Il va falloir recommencer."
Angry sigh: "Je reste.""A la condition que j'ai donnée."
She hissed: "Oui!"
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relieved and I glanced at Corinne with a smile I neither intended nor could explain.
We entered my office, I shut the door and we sat down. I remembered that she usually had an errand to run after the seminar: "Et votre petit garçon?"
"J'ai téléphoné.""Ah!" The ice was cracked, but not broken. Maybe something irrelevant would help: "A quelle université faisiez-vous vos études en France?" It was a question that usually brought convivial answers.
To my surprise, however, she was reluctant. "Nanterre," she finally admitted."Ah!" In this context, Ah! was supposed to mean "Well! isn't that nice?" What it really meant was: "So that's where you learned how to sabotage classes!" In 1968, radical students had targeted professors at the University of Nanterre for political or pedagogical conservatism, although the ostensible motives hadn't been the only ones. My seminar had scarcely given Corinne any reason to suspect me of pedagogical conservatism. False rumors of my political conservatism circulated by colleagues like Mumpet and Sinkovitch didn't seem adequate to drive someone like Corinne to attack me.
"C'est comme si vous aviez oublié l'ambiance de Nanterre jusqu'à cet après-midi."
"On a exagéré cette ambiance.""Et tout à l'heure: vous ne l'avez pas exagérée vous-meâme?"
"N'avons-nous pas le droit de ne pas être d'accord avec vous?""Si, tout comme vos camarades ont le droit de ne pas être d'accord avec vous."
"Mais... je pense qu'ils étaient d'accord avec moi.""En quoi vous ont-ils soutenue?... Je suis tenté de conclure qu'on vous a induit en erreur à mon sujet."
Bristling: "Je n'ai besoin d'écouter personne!""De toutes les injustices, inciter quelqu'un d'autre à régler nos comptes"
"Que voulez-vous dire, Monsieur?"
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"Ne venez-vous pas de le confirmer?"
Shrill: "Au contraire, je le nie catégoriquement!"Her face contradicted her lips and she knew it. The anxiety tormented her to the point that I nearly felt sorry for her.
"Bon! C'est bien simple: Vous abandonnerez mon cours et je ferai de sorte que vous ne serez pas pénalisée, sauf les trois 'crédits' que vous serez obligée de récupérer pendant un autre semestre. Je regrette, mais il n'y a pas d'autre remède."
"Vous vous vengez parce que j'ai osé douter des propos que vous affirmiez sans preuves."
"Si vous êtes bien convaincue de cela, c'est une raison de plus. Mais un professeur se vengerait bien mieux en retenant l'élève et en lui donnant la plus mauvaise note possible. D'ailleurs, quelle note auriez-vous eue, s'il y en avait une pour la conduite?"