Why I Love Great Literature—and How the Academy Has Killed It

Many distractions this week.  (I’ve just recovered from a yellow-jacket attack… okay, I attacked their nest first—but it was an accident!), and I’ve also been falsely accused of breaking rules in a Facebook discussion (haven’t used FB in months, and never will again).  At times like these, I have always retreated to literature.  In my first teaching gig, I remember saying almost those same words to a class after a difficult week and then being corrected by a pert ninth-grade lass, “Most people would say ‘faith’ and not ‘literature’.”  The moment was eye-opening.  I realized that literature, for me, occupied a house next door to religious faith; and to this day, I think that’s where it belongs.

I’m pretty much alone in that opinion, apparently.  The professionals among whom I came to spend most of my academic career often padded their curricula vitae with articles about literature’s “demystifying” effects.  A syllabus loaded with fictional works will always illustrate a) the historical rise of an oppressed class (women, racial/ethnic minorities, gays, etc.), b) the incriminating absence or degradation of that class in works treated as canonical by the patriarchy, and/or c) the glorious explosion of all values whatever into the originary rubble from which the bourgeoisie had fashioned its sand castles.  That’s it.  Paper due on Friday.

In other words, literature not only does not serve to shore up metaphysical belief systems: it’s a battering ram to bring them down.

I’ve had this subject on my mind lately as I pick through a volume of Ayn Rand’s theories about art.  A brilliant mind, Ms. Rand… but a really curious case.  It’s odd to see so many professed conservatives rush out and embrace this maverick atheist who constructed a philosophical edifice from the notion that the best way to help others is to help yourself.  That formula continues to puzzle me.  If all human behavior is self-serving, then why argue that selfishness is the most genuine selflessness?  Why would that argument persuade—who would be won over to egotism once it was vindicated as altruism, unless the altruistic truly held some natural grip upon our consciousness?

Rand’s view of literature, at any rate, seems almost to worship it as a kind of pure abstraction—an occasion of the human mind’s distancing itself from immediate sensory circumstances and compressing experience into a splendid crystal.  The other arts do the same, of course.  All are generated by an activity of the self upon the vital environment which produces an objective, self-transcending, perhaps eternal (in the sense of classic) work.  Is a suppressed longing at labor here to escape the pit of egotism?  Is that, perhaps, the source of Rand’s hatred for Kant, whom she accuses of causing the train wreck of modern art?  Why would she make that vague but venomous accusation, unless because Kant insisted that art has an invincibly subjective element—that its way of reaching “objectively beautiful” status must remain a mystery, since the path leads through so much subjective groping and stumbling?  Does she hate Kant for honoring the mystery—for turning the crystal into a sponge?

If I’m right in my assessment, then Rand becomes a very odd (but really not so odd) bedfellow of the “demystifying” academic crowd so vocal at the political spectrum’s far end.  That mob would praise a novel for showing the “meaningful life” to be an insipid fraud concocted to placate the dull masses; Rand would praise a novel for its sleek design, as an Allied pilot might praise a Nazi opponent’s ME 262.  The philosophy might be horribly wrong… but how elegantly and efficiently the craft’s lines have brought it together before the eye!

As for me, in my impending old age (as this world measures age), I have begun to feel more and more comfortable with the following idea.  What we see of a novel’s design—its plot complications, how its characters contribute to those complications with their distinctive traits, the means of climatically resolving tension—is all distraction from its most significant quality.  For what we see creates (or, in a poor novel, does not create) a space for the unseen: the lines exist only to be bent outward into wandering hyperbolae, just as the plane’s purpose is to be a blur in the sky and not a polished shell on the runway.

Say that Detective Hawk finally uncovers evidence that convicts Mr. Hapless of the murder.  If the novel does no more than to follow Hawk’s navigation through a labyrinth of clues, then we have what is rightly styled “light reading”.  We didn’t learn much here.  The literary experience was pretty bland.

Now say that the novel doesn’t end with the conviction of Hapless: say that new evidence reveals his innocence.  Hawk faces an existential crisis.  He played the game brilliantly, as he always does… and it led him straight to the wrong conclusion.  How does he handle that?  What does it tell us about the irrational side—the mystery—of life?

Perhaps Hawk manages to meet the exonerated Hapless.  He isn’t apologetic, because he did nothing wrong: he didn’t reshape any facts and he didn’t leave any stone unturned.  Yet he expects Hapless, naturally, to be vindictive.  To his shock, the freed man is very humble, claiming that he feels himself put in possession of a new chance at life—a chance to live better.  Hawk doesn’t get it.  Hapless did nothing wrong, either, in the sense of actively implicating himself in the crime; the poor man seems almost to have gone a little wacko after his time in a cell block, as if his relationship with his father were somehow at issue.

How does Hawk process this?  Though he doesn’t know it, an occasion has now been presented to him to rethink the assumptions and values of his life.  Perhaps he has been living, all unaware, in his own prison.  Will he break free?

Don’t misunderstand.  I once refereed a panel discussion of the “Christian novel” at a conference… and the tiresome tomes I had to wade through in preparation were time spent in Hell.  Not for an instant am I suggesting that great literature is didactic—that it contorts everything to fit a narrow paradigm the way Procrustes fitted guests to his infamous bed.  “Then Hawk happened to pick up a Bible.  He started reading… and all became clear.”  No.  Please, no!  The novel I am imagining would be rendered spiritual only to the degree that it opened up an abyss at Hawk’s feet.  Let the curtain come down as he looks in.  Let mists and shadows play about the solid trunks of plot complication.

For such is life: not the hard lump of fresh-cut crystal artificially lifted from experience that Rand imagines, but a Caspar David Friedrich painting with just enough peaks and chasms to leave you understanding how much you don’t understand.  Joseph Conrad was the Friedrich of narrative that I recall most warmly from my adolescence, despite all his clumsy and verbose diction.  (He didn’t speak a bit of English before the age of eighteen.)  Kurtz’s last words, “The horror… the horror,” are at least as powerful as anything in Ivan Ilyich’s deathbed conversion (from a Tolstoy novella in all the anthologies); and Marlow’s decision to let the crazed renegade’s fiancée cling to her naive vision of him is surely wrong at some level (Kant would never approve!), yet just as surely a loop that draws the reader into the abyss of mystery.

I don’t know if I could have lived a full life in this world, or could keep living what remains to me of it, without literature.  I can’t live by a book of do’s and don’t’s: I need a faith that constantly reminds me of my human inability to process reality’s complete meaning.  No design of a life lived can capture the sense of life (even Christ’s: for who among us can live out that model—and how many who try validate Ayn Rand’s uncharitable claim that selflessness is just a self-serving pose?).  The artful condensation of events that I seek in literature is a distilling of the true, ineradicable mystery surrounding me—surrounding us all, whether we adore it or fly from it with vain boasts that our intellectual magic wand has chased it away.

I’m sorry that my professional colleagues have worked so hard, and so effectively, to destroy literature.  In doing so, they have contributed in no small measure to destroying true faith in our society… which, of course, would make most of them very happy if they realized it.

The Twitter Pope Asail Upon the Garbagy Sea

Pope Francis appears to have grown deeply concerned about the volume of plastic trash floating in our seas.  Interestingly, his inner garbage-lookout has begun crying, “Trash ho!” at just the moment when credible rumors have surfaced that a homosexual clique within the Vatican has been secretly saluting the pedophile Jolly Roger  Seems like a very convenient time to be looking starboard instead of larboard—and the mainstream news media are, of course, sailors first-class at changing screens.  Ever eager to see Francis carry on carrying on about manmade climate change and the diabolical evil of privately owning a means of self-defense, talking heads everywhere have buried Archbishop Vigano’s charges of child-molesting complicity in empty liter-bottles of Coke and shredded Little Debbie packaging.  Utopia’s pope preaches their gospel almost as if they were sharing teleprompters. “Who am I to judge?” opines the Chief Pontiff on the lump-of-flesh removal question… but his view of Parkland High School’s atrocity leaves the holster as quick as a sixgun in a spaghetti western.

And so it goes on, even in the practice of faith: the endless tennis match between the World Propaganda Machine and unsavory fact.

I for one am willing to take my eye off the ball completely this morning.  Let us accept that trash on the tides is a more urgent problem than homosexual seduction (a.k.a. statutory rape) of minors in the sanctuary.  After all, the Green Party has already gained the ascendancy over public school curricula in Germany and is busily teaching little girls and boys whose voices are years from lowering how to conduct sexual experiments.  Maybe Francis’s priests were just helping a few adolescents with their homework.

So back to the trash issue (I mean, plastic trash): may we ponder this one for a moment?  What’s the suggested solution?  Massive plastic roundups conducted by a kind of Green Coast Guard synchronized with a war on plastic products such as Governor Jerry Brown’s criminalization of straws?  And what, may I ask, is to be done with all the rounded-up plastic?  Do we burn it, thus infusing a major new catalyst into the engine driving Global Warming (according to His Eminence et al.)?  Or do we bury it—and there’s a lot of it, remember—thus further destabilizing the Earth’s crust and exacerbating the global epidemic of sinkholes?  (Would you believe, by the way, that southeastern New Mexico, perhaps the nation’s most favored site for dumping nuclear waste, also ranks near the top of the list for sinkhole activity?  Still think your government is good at planning these things out?)

I’ve been wondering for several months now (when I wasn’t wrestling with how to extract gender allusion from pronouns or how to eliminate “race whistles” from animal names)… why should we do anything more with the ocean’s drifting islands of plastic than encourage their formation and “sculpt” them?  Islands are useful.  Among other things, an island would be invincible as land-bound coastal cities succumb to Al Gore Armageddon.  It could also evade hurricanes like Katrina, if it is mobile: this is a point made in earnest by engineers who have had island-communities on the drawing board for years.  The basis of those designs, to be sure, was not old bottles of Jiff and forlorn ring-nets once holding six-packs of Coors together… but who’s going to notice that Plastopolis is floating on garbage bags rather than sleek pontoons?  And the pontoons might always rupture—but garbage bags, we have good assurance, are forever.

Or if the feeling is that encouraging wayfarer island-towns would only disseminate civilization’s toxicity more thoroughly around the globe… then why not populate the islands with verdant forests? If one component of Climate Change is the depletion of the rainforest, then why not multiply these artificial islands so as to restore the planet’s green cloak in some measure?

We’re stuck in and with a high-tech world.  I don’t like it, personally, and I’ve done more to resist capture than most people I know… but the reality of pollution will not be dispelled with the wave of a magic wand (or by papal edict, or even by a Jerry Brown initiative).  Indeed, those who would most aggressively repress the commercial and industrial activity responsible for forming our postmodern cesspool are situated (as I notice again and again) at points well beyond the real stench and fully insulated against the lean times sure to follow repression.  Francis and Governor Brown will have a running shower with plenty of hot water, though the rest of the world be sponging off from muddy goat tracks.

We will not solve any environmental problem by banning entire industries and cultural habits.  As I wrote a while back of my own struggles on a would-be farm, you can’t defeat water by bullying it into reversing its course: you can only channel it into less destructive directions.  The trash in our oceans is a problem… so let us imagine ways to transform trash into life-nourishing productivity.  We who created it surely have the ingenuity to steer its life cycle’s last stages down a more benign path.

In contrast, this crusading (or, if you prefer, jihadist) zeal to annihilate the enemy—to leave his foundations smoking (in stratosphere-friendly gasses) and his chattel eviscerated—is an insane pantomime intended to convince us, and everyone within earshot, of our own high virtue.  The cost of such virtue is usually the magnification of the original problem to catastrophic proportions; and, of course, it isn’t really virtue at all, but the mortal sin of vain pride.  We kill our souls as we kill our planet.

One would think that the Catholic pope, even an example of as dubious a pedigree as Francis, would recognize this.  But he is the world’s first Twitter Pope.  Grit doesn’t find its way into his shoes because they never touch real earth.  His visions, and ours, float and drift like the leavings of a child’s Christmas presents… or like Swift’s floating island of air-headed speculators, the Laputans.  With guiding ideas like this, who needs a Styrofoam garbage invasion?

Mollie Tibbetts, R.I.P.—and God Help Your “Sisters”

It is incredible to me that any person alive, let alone several women of public note, would have responded to the murder of Mollie Tibbetts by a young man illegally resident in the U.S. with comments on the order of, “Well, the man’s legal status is irrelevant.  There is no issue here but toxic masculinity.  Every woman runs Mollie’s risk whenever she’s with her boyfriend.  More women are shot by their boyfriends every year than by illegal aliens.”

I saw similar remarks all over Twitter—where, of course, one always goes to find profound diagnosis of the day’s news.  But all sneering aside—or as much of it as possible—let me take that response at face value.  One concession I cannot make in my attempt to resist the sneer is using the word “boyfriend” out of quotation marks.  That anybody should consider a person to be a friend of any kind who’s capable of spontaneous combustion into homicidal violence is… just let me keep my quotes, or I won’t be able to continue.

In the first place, there appear to be no statistics to arbitrate the claim.  President Trump famously (or infamously) claimed that “thousands” of American citizens have been murdered by illegal aliens.  The website Politifact ruled his claim “half true”, since the number of thousands and the time frame for the murders were both unspecified.  The website’s operators clearly wanted to drag Trump to the woodshed for slinging about vicious accusations carelessly.  In their dedication to this mission, they ironically failed to notice the broader issue: that reliable, objective figures about the criminal activity of illegal residents are seldom made available.  We’re supposed to be snorting, “Well, Donald… do you mean two thousand over the past hundred years?  That seems like a pretty sure bet!”  But what if it’s two thousand in the past year?  How do we know?  If the elusive Trump isn’t going to tell us, why can’t we get that information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics?

Yet the claim, “More women die at the hands of their ‘boyfriends’ that of illegal aliens,” is surely true, if we tally bodies instead of calculating probability.  How many males between the ages of 16 and 60 are illegally resident in the U.S.?  Those figures, too, appear to live in the twilight.  Make it five million.  Now, how many of our three hundred million legal residents are females within that same age group; and of these, how many are occasionally engaged in sexual relationships with males?  The figure could easily be thirty or forty million.  One must assume that there’s a small contingent of psychopaths within both male groups.  That condition by itself, tiny though the “psychopath subset” might be, would confirm the statement.  Since the one killer in ten thousand becomes three or four thousand among legal residents, the same proportion plus a whopping number of habitual lawbreakers who break skulls for their gangs would still scarcely make a blip on the comparative graph.

In other words, we could echo Politifact by calling the statement half true—or, more accurately, labeling it an inane, mean-nothing claim couched in terms that seek the respectability of statistical evidence.  It’s a stupid statement, at least as stupid as Trump’s is supposed to have been.

I’m more interested, honestly, in what makes young women hang out with men whom they suspect of having such a dark side… and then they claim that all men are of this sort!  I well remember pondering the question as a young single male.  Why did she leave the party with that guy?  Why does she go to bars looking for a mate to share her life?  Why do girls never want to see the guy again who respectfully leaves them at their front door with a light kiss?  And then we hear that all men are animals! I recall getting really tired of that refrain.

In the original black-and-white version of Cape Fear, a girl that the homicidal convict (played brilliantly by Robert Mitchum) picked up in a bar says something like, “What I like about you, Max Cady, is that a girl knows she can’t sink any lower once she reaches you.”  If we’re going to talk about toxic character traits related to gender, it seems like this one should make the docket.

To me, that’s the real story behind these Tweeted remarks (and some of them, too, were written in an ostensibly more reflective context, or even spoken on national television—more’s the shame and the disgrace).  The claims made have nothing to do with Mollie Tibbetts, may she know eternal peace.  They are, to me, yet further evidence that we have among us an “educated, thinking” class incapable of feeling the anguish of others—capable only of squinting at every reality through the fractured prism of their egocentric obsessions.  For crying out loud… we’re not talking about your bad date—we’re talking about an innocent girl murdered in the park!

This kind of disconnect frightens me, frankly, in a way that a thug in the shadows doesn’t.  Thugs have always lurked in the shadows: they always will, alas.  That’s not the issue, though it appears to be closer to the sentiment of the Tweets.  The difference is that which separates being knifed as you walk to your car and knifed as you pour another drink for the stranger who knocked at your door.  We can’t protect young women from the consequences of their self-destructive judgments if they want no advice, and especially if they fight the learning curve by ascribing every brutal outcome to “toxic masculinity”.  We ought to be able, however, to assure young women of a reasonable degree of safety as they traverse a parking lot, or a sidewalk, or a city park.

Instead, we who would draw such distinctions are told to shut up.  We’re denied public venues to voice our opinions sometimes—particularly on college campuses and, yes, even on Facebook and Twitter—and perhaps efforts are made to vandalize our websites (as has been happening to mine for the past month).  “No speech but my speech… no opinions but mine… and whatever’s in the news didn’t really happen unless it bears upon my bad day and my bad week.”

You call people “boyfriends” who might murder you on any given night—and you don’t want any advice?  Really? Just what do you want? A long line of mourners at your funeral?

Posing With Mother Nature in Selfies Doesn’t Help Her

October 1 will be an important day for me.  That’s when the summer burn ban for Floyd County terminates.  I would guess on the fly that at least fifty trees, mostly pines of under twenty feet in height, were shouldered to the lot’s edge by heavy equipment when my house was built.  The process is known as “clearing”, apparently.  “Clearing” doesn’t include cleaning up the mess you left along the periphery of the work zone—which, yes, also contains plenty of crumpled Shasta cans, shredded Nabisco wrappers, and rounded tins of Skoal.

These latter I cannot completely burn into oblivion; but I’m much more concerned, frankly, about the biodegradable debris, both because it’s infinitely more abundant in volume and because it creates hazards well beyond unsightliness.  A good little footsoldier of the Green Movement would exhort me to pick up the wrappers and cans while keeping my fingers away from matches: just let Mother Nature go her natural way!  But, you see, it’s not nearly so simple as that.

In the first place, the production of vast debris piles around the felled trunks—and I mean natural debris, such as dead leaves and dense briars—would become a major fire hazard if next summer proves more to resemble a dry 2017 than a wet 2018.  Not just my own house, but the entire North Georgia countryside, would stand at risk should tinder of this kind be allowed to collect.  How is Mother Nature helped when we pack her skirts with deadwood and then hold our collective breath in hopes that one cigarette or one lightning strike doesn’t incinerate several counties?  The practice of burning the fuel beforehand may seem counterintuitive to the ingénue, but those are the real-world options: a controlled burn or a conflagration of the “not if, but when” category.

California’s rash of devastating wildfires, by the way, owes much of its genesis (pace Jerry Brown, Blessed Be His Name) to idiotic “conservation” practices that forbid the culling of dry, dead underbrush.  Add to that environment populations of tent-city itinerants living on Mulligan stew… and you have proof positive of ruinous Climate Change, so it is said.

Then there’s the wildlife so precious to our acolytes of Diana.  Understand this.  Any disruption whatever of the environment, be it fully natural are wholly manmade, sends ripples of impact (if not tsunamis) among the routines of flora and fauna.  Granted, the thick growth of weeds and briars on and around stacks of deadwood is a natural phenomenon… but the specific pattern is also quite unnatural.  A forest left alone would not permit jungle-like underbrush to take over; and once given the run of the devastated scene, the low underbrush chokes out opportunities for other vegetation.

This, in turn, changes patterns of animal behavior.  I’ve noticed that bird activity has grown much more lively where I’ve cleared the underbrush (or at least moved it free of the forest to await disposal).  Deer are also much more likely to move through my cleared patches.  I would speculate that the thorny litter must obviously have impeded low-flying songbirds and animals that trust in speed to survive; it also probably became an artificial incubator for snakes, which are never a bird’s best friend.  I like snakes in their proper place: they eat mice and rats.  But I see no need to erect Super 8 Motels for them all around my property.

My property… what a smug, bourgeois phrase (sneers the green saint from his lofty perch).  The land would never have been cleared, in the first place, if I had just stayed away!  Why didn’t I keep out of the forest?

It wouldn’t have interested this Jeremiah, I’m sure, that the property was already being “seeded” by deer hunters to gun down Bambi mom and gnawed away by developers who would have turned every last acre into a playground for lawnmowers.  In other words, my intrusion would never be viewed as itself an act of conservation by the Green Crusade: no, that would deprive Righteous Eco-Warrior of a chance to claim moral superiority over yet another human being.

So allow me merely to repeat this observation.  Everything we do has an ecological impact.  The addicts and drifters who are living out of San Francisco’s dumpsters and defecating on her sidewalks may have a minuscule carbon footprint—but they aren’t simply throwing themselves into the bay to feed the fish.  Their maintenance requires tax dollars that are raised, at least in some measure, through industrial activity.  Sanitizing the environment they pollute also consumes resources; and those among them who stoke campfires on the edge of town to blunt the evening’s chill are not a negligible factor (I must also repeat) in California’s horrendous wildfire problem.  No human has no environmental effect.  Some end up having major destructive effects precisely through their ill-calculated efforts to “live as one” with the growing grass.

I conclude, then, with yet further insistence on a theme that my harp has strummed all week long.  We need to engage the world around us in detail: we need to learn its intricacies rather than roping in select parts of it as background for a selfie.  Too many of us too uncritically embrace childishly facile notions of “nature” and “green consciousness” only because we want to feel good about ourselves.  The focus of our noisy advocacy is ourselves—our egotistical quest for moral superiority—and not the benefit of the cause for which we clamor.  If you are among these boisterous “sensitive” youths, please stop sucking in all the air around you.  Depart from your “avatar” long enough to make a tour of reality.  Know something about your holy mission.  Stop marveling over what it does for your image in the mirror, and start thinking about what you might do, sensibly and maturely, on its behalf.

And for the record… I have used as much deadwood as I can physically manipulate to build up terraces for my fruit trees, which will need well-draining ground.  But I’m not Gilgamesh: I can’t take on the entire remains of Humbaba’s cedar forest.  The burnt ash will fertilize the soil—that’s the best I can do for you.

If you’re so very worried about the Greenhouse Effect, how about turning your attention to studying the reduction of catastrophic pressures in volcanoes—a fearful phenomenon that happens to be an immensely more credible path to multi-species extinction?  (Google “Yellowstone super-volcano”.) A young, environmentally conscious biology major once responded to that question, “Well… but there’s something we could do about the climate, and there’s nothing we can do about volcanoes.”  Try parsing that one, without my help, for arrogance and a paradoxical defeatism!

Meanwhile… go cuddle a snake, and see how much joy it really brings you.

Forgiveness as Self-Indulgence

Glenn Beck does more charitable work in a day than I’ll do in a lifetime.  He has lately started a project to rescue Haitian children who have been sold or forced into sexual slavery.  Nothing I write here is meant to disparage that heroic and noble undertaking, or any other of its kind.

But I heard the Beckster to say within minutes of describing his work in Haiti that we should forgive everyone–even those who don’t seek forgiveness.  He had already shifted context: he was discussing, I believe, the recent book of a former “guest” at the Hanoi Hilton (i.e., a POW held by the Viet Cong).

I have this to say about that.  If the man who had kidnapped your eight-year-old daughter and rented her out to perverts for three years were captured, put on trial, and released on a technicality, would you forgive him?  Knowing that he had smirked at you in the courtroom and entertained every intention of resuming his lucrative profession, would you simply lift your eyes to heaven and sigh, “I put down this burden–let him go in peace”?  Such “forgiveness” would strike me as grotesque and rather comtemptible.  Sorry… but I don’t think you would be much of a parent, if that were your frame of mind.

Now, I’m not saying that you should plot to ambush the guy and feed his testicles to stray dogs as he watched.  You must not allow a beast to reduce you to another beast.

But I know from my own youthful experience that forgiveness can be an intoxcant–and a relaxant.  Something’s eating at you: you can’t get any food down, you can’t focus, and you can’t sleep.  You have to let it go.  And so you tell yourself, “Though I haven’t deserved this treatment, I have surely deserved punishment for other things I have done that passed unremarked.  The best man who ever leaved was among the most tortured–and I’m not worthy to kiss his toe.”  With that mindset, you can eat again, sleep again.  So liberating!  You feel that you have really climbed to a new spiritual plateau.

What you’ve really done, though, is find a way to eat and sleep again.  Is it morally good that you should be able to eat and sleep… or is it just materially pleasant and helpful?

If someone has truly done you an outrage, is letting go of the hurt a spiritual triumph… or is it a facilitating quietism that leaves the scoundrel free to claim more victims once you stop pressing your suit?

Many Irish peasants in the mid-nineteenth century embraced the notion that the Potato Famine was God’s punishment upon their weak faith.  Thinking that their misery was deserved made it easier to bear.  Nevertheless, what a horrible, ultimately blasphemous idea!  The popular version of forgiving can provide the same kind of Bandaid: wounds can heal beneath it–but more because of what it screens out than because of any inherent curative properties.  In fact, the skin can turn white and anemic under such “protection”.

I would claim that this is not true forgiveness at all.  I think the word is much abused.  Sometimes you’re just doing what you have to do to survive.  Be honest about that and don’t kid yourself.  A good night’s sleep is not necessarily a sign that you’re traveling the right path.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns and Cultural Meltdown

Grading final exams is a dismal enough task: the “someone… they” agreement errors, the use of “like” and “however” as conjunctions, the utter cluelessness surrounding “whom”; but when students who can’t get any of this stuff right begin to lobby for pronouns that don’t “offend” by expressing gender, then I know that I may have missed the TITANIC’s last lifeboat.  Why are you offended?  Because you’re neither “he” nor “she”?  Well, we have “it”… but that’s most offensive of all, because you now sound like an impersonal object!  But if you have no gender… oh, excuse me!  You do have a gender, only you’re neither male nor female!  But if you’re a male identifying as female, would you not be “she”, and vice versa?  Or if you are neither and not neuter, then exactly what are you?

Students clamor for this non-existent fourth option because other professors have primed them to talk and think rubbish–and because, of course, they want to appear broad-minded and compassionate.  Yet how is the stilling of tongues in impotence lest they utter a substantial thought compassionate?  Say that our conversation in the present constantly reminds me of times past.  I want a tense that accomodates both the currency of our words and the nostalgia that their echo awakens in me.  I’m so frustrated!  My language will not do this; and you, by speaking to me in one tense or the other, are collaborating in the offense!  Ouch!  You’re hurting me!

Vanitas vanitatum.  What an infantile, futile, facile era we live in…