Friday, February 1, 2008

Good fucking god.

Might I regale y'all with a paragraph from one of my college papers? I believe that I wrote this when I was a senior (20 years old). I can only hope. Actually, the word "hodiernal" clued me in, since I learned it at about that age.

To identify the preconceptions under which one lives, to recognize the possibly arbitrary assignment of signs and signifieds which dictate our perceptions of what we term reality: these are daunting and improbable tasks. It is difficult, if not impossible, to observe ourselves from the inside, to say “This is truth” and “That is what I only think to be truth.” But when two conflicting paradigms meet, the precariousness of the “false” is made all too evident. Of course, in our hodiernal lives, such an occurrence is rare. By and large, we must trust to literature and allegory to witness the effects of such a meeting.


What, pray tell, am I
talking about? Well, let me tell ya.

In “The Masque of the Red Death” and “MS. Found in a Bottle,” Poe describes the disconcerting effects of the intrusion of one “reality,” or sign-system, upon another. These two stories do not function identically, however; indeed, they can be seen as showing different sides of this crisis. The narrator of “MS.” is, though frightened, at least somewhat eager to discover the “secret” towards which he is racing; moreover, he is moving from a scientific, orderly world into a highly disorderly one. The characters in “Masque,” on the other hand, have constructed a carefully-guarded dream-world which is threatened—and destroyed—by the encroachment of the external, “real” one. Thus they both illustrate the precariousness of what we take to be our system of signs and signifieds, but from vastly differing perspectives.


See, occasionally I like to look back over my undergraduate papers to get a sense of what I could/should expect from my own students. It's not that I, in my infinite modesty, think that my students should be as obviously brilliant as I was at that age, but rather to remind myself that I shouldn't feel bad about the B's and C's. Or something. But, good Lord, do I
want students to produce this kind of prose? Wowza. What's especially disturbing is that I was totally sincere.

It's a far cry from my nine-year-old poetic self: "Weird things live in my cupboard," indeed.

7 comments:

Hilaire said...

God, that's hilarious! Yeah, I didn't get it. I love the way you take care to refer to "signs and signifieds." So clearly newly enamored of theory - I love that.

My entire archive of undergraduate work was "mistakenly" thrown out (by someone else, not me). I always long for it.

kermitthefrog said...

My second year of college, I wrote a paper with four titles, referencing a passage in Through the Looking Glass that we had just read during a discussion of the arbitrariness of language. Sophomoric, indeed!

squadratomagico said...

I'd love to receive papers like that from my undergrads! Not because your prose is perfectly successful, but because it's so fucking ambitious! You're trying to synthesize a lot of different ideas and vocabulary, probably learned from several different classes. That's impressive in and of itself.

Belle said...

Well excuse me, but my reaction was 'holy crap!'

And I had to look up hodiernal.

I think I shall go hide in my closet. With all the weird things there.

k8 said...

I look at my old papers, too. It humbles me. I have certain colleagues who I suspect should look at their old papers (based on their comments about their students). But, mine are particularly scary since most of them are in tortured german. Scary!!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I prefer the weird things in your cupboard prose. But hey, haven't we all had our phases of linguistic excess? Mine came in the second semester of grad school, and was quickly beaten out of me by a professor who would underline passages I found particularly clever, and write in the margin: "Don't do this to your reader."

heu mihi said...

"Don't do this to your reader."

That's marvelous. Wow.

Glad to entertain, everyone--I'd love to see some of these terrifying paragraphs you guys claim to have produced!