Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Joyce, Modernism, and Aestheticism"

So I decided I was going to try to branch out a little this semester and maybe check out an English class, and I've always had a vague desire to read Joyce with some supervision. So I went to this class today. Two episodes convinced me that the class was not for me:

First, the Professor began with a thought experiment: imagine that you have a blank piece of paper and an un-erasable pen. So far so good. Now imagine you're in jail so it's your only piece of paper ever. I can accept that. Then he started talking about how the "whiteness" of the paper "defends" the paper from me, and, for some reason, I spend exactly 113 days not writing anything on it. In context, the professor says, that piece of paper is now...art. Because it represents all the writing I didn't do! I was reminded of the Simpsons episode wherein Lisa tells a fellow concert-goer that he has to listen to the notes the violin soloist isn't playing, and the man responds that he can do that from home.

But I had survived "the black square" first semester, surely I could weather the storm of a blank piece of paper (which, incidentally, couldn't be hung in a gallery because nobody would understand it in context, and the author couldn't sign the paper because that would violate and penetrate its virgin whiteness. It's a paradox.). However, the blank paper did nothing to prepare me for the almost indescribable nonsense that was to follow (the following is so nonsensical that some people actually left the room rolling their eyes, while I stayed on to document the events for the outside world).

The Professor declared that Modernism is all about making "words speak for themselves," "getting the writer out of the equation." Several English-y looking people nodded their approval. Then he declared he was going to write a word on the board, but first he had to decide where on the board to write it. That took a while, but he finally selected a hard-to-reach corner of the board and carefully, in sloppy all-caps, he wrote....
SNOW
I'm not going to lie, I fell for his ploy - the first thing I thought of when I saw that word was....snow! And then, rather smugly, he was like "I bet you guys imagined snow when you saw that word. And then nothing, because you expect OTHER WORDS, maybe even a sentence! But I bet you didn't think of this [writing on the board]:
SNOW
NOW
NO
ON
WON
SO?
NO!
O!
"I bet you didn't think of how 'no' and 'on' are the same in a mirror, and different on a page. And how if you skip letters or rearrange others, you get other words, other concepts. Combinatorics will be a major theme of this class."

So in conclusion, I don't feel confident enough in my ability to pass that class to take it for credit.

2 comments:

Anne said...

Do you think maybe he wanted a small class?

JVH said...

it's very possible - another thing he said was there is a lot of reading for the class, and not of the page-turning variety.