Monday, 26 March 2007

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You Make Me Uncomfortable with Your Poetic Words Many people noted that the best thing about that post was the poetry it inspired. I agree. It would be a shame to let it die a quiet death in the comment section. eb started us off: Those lips that your own mouth did move Breathed forth the sound that said "I grade," To me that anguished to improve. But when I heard your words conveyed Straight in my heart discomfort rose, Shaking that pen that ever strong Was used in writing graceful prose, And taught it things it knew all wrong. "I grade" you garbled without cease And fouled it as rotting pomes Doth foul a bunch, which, like old grease From kitchen to dump is cast from homes. "I grade" you thwarted with a care That ruined your course, saying, "as fair..." Rich quickly followed suit: Once within a classroom dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of a voice gently rapping, rapping about some writing chore. `'Tis the TA,' I muttered, `rapping about some writing chore— Only this, and nothing more.' [...] Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, `Sir,' said I, `by Email, truly your instruction I deplore; But the fact is I was napping, and so gently your voice flapping, And incessant mapping, mapping of your lesson plans galore That you make me quite uncomfortable—here I opened wide the door;— For complaints and nothing more. [...] In your class I have been guessing, but no syllable expressing To the incessent voice now burned into my brainstem's core; More and more I sat divining, with my head slackly reclining On how to get the grade that I could have gloated o'er That GPA-gainful grade that I could be gloating o'er But my marks, they are poor. [...] `Instructor!' said I, `thing of evil!—grader still, though but a devil! By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God that I adore— Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the final grading, I shall clasp a higher rating then the one I had before— Or the head of your department shall hear of it galore— Quoth the TA, `Nevermore.' And again: This Is Just To Say I have wasted the brain cells that were in my head-box and which you were probably training to write things Forgive me I do not understand so tired and I want a better grade AHCUAH chimed in: I appreciate you taking your inconvenience to instruct us but I really had some problems in your class and I would like to explain them to you now. Every day I wanted to discuss with you about the way you grade my papers and the way you teach the class, but I could not because the things you say in class and your words disturb me so much I can not. You make me completely uncomfortable with the little things you...
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Pynchon Then & Now... ... as illustrated on pages 52 and 53 of Against the Day. First, the clumsy integration of Turner's "frontier thesis" into the body of the text: "It may not be the West you're expecting," Professor Vanderjuice put in. "Back in July my colleague Freddie Turner came out here from Harvard and gave a speech before the a bunch of anthro people who were all in town for their convention and of course the Fair. To the effect that the Western frontier we all thought we knew from song and story was no longer on the map but gone, absorbed—a dead duck." Perhaps the clunkiness of that passage is mitigated by the fact that a haughty professor mumbles it. Maybe Pynchon intended its clumsiness; maybe he wanted to indict academia by having its functionaries speak a dead language to unlistening ears. But turn to the next page: "Yes, here," continued the Professor, nodding down at the [slaughter] Yards as they began to flow by beneath, "here's where the Trail comes to its end at last, along with the American Cowboy who used to live on it and by it. No matter how virtuous he's kept his name, how many evildoers he's managed to get by undamaged, how he's done by his horses, what girls he has chastely kissed, serenaded by guitar, or gone out and raised halleujah with, it's all back there in the traildust now and now of it matters, for down there you'll find the wet convergence and finale of his drought-struck tale and thankless calling, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show stood on its head—spectators invisible and silent, nothing to be commemorated, the only weapons in view being Blitz Instruments and Wackett Punches to knock animals out with, along with the blades everybody is packing, of course, and the rodeo clowns jabber on in some incomprehensible lingo not to distract the beast but rather to heighten and maintain its attention to the single task at hand, bringing it down to those last few gates, the stunning-devices waiting inside, the butchering and blood just beyond the last chute—and the cowboy with him." In that second paragraph, the Professor sounds like someone from a Pynchon novel—more to the point, he sounds like the narrator of a Pynchon novel. Not to dredge up old animosities, but more and more Pynchon seems burdened by his distinctive voice. When his characters speak in their own voices, they sound like the stilted hack-work of an imitator; when they speak in his voice, they rise to Pynchonian heights, but they do so at the cost of being recognizable characters. In Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon was better able to strike a balance. It has taken me four months to publish this post, as I'm annoyed by my own reaction to Against the Day. Unlike every other Pynchon novel I've read, when I finished Against the Day, I was finished with it. Haven't thought about it since. As you can tell, I am sad.

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