Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Et in Arcadia Ego Est

Possibly the most sententious Latin sentiment I know (though I admittedly don't know very many), which you will often find in Pastoral art and poetry: an image of Death (either a skull or a tomb or whatever) inscribed with the above, meaning, "Even in Arcadia (earthly paradise) I Am." I remember discussing this during a Milton seminar in relation to a poem reflecting that theme (Lycidas), which was—if I remember correctly—coined by Virgil in his Eclogues. A fairly tedious poem by an extremely tedious poet (Milton, I mean...I've never read much Virgil so can't say). I rather enjoyed Milton's Paradise Lost, but only the parts set in Hell. I thought he did a fairly interesting job of characterizing Satan, and the bombastic rhythm he used in the Infernal portions of that epic is truly thrilling, like a heavy-duty house mix derived from Baroque opera. Otherwise, I rather wish I'd never studied Milton. He was an asshole. So was Yeats, not to mention Wordsworth, and knowing what assholes the poets were tends to decrease my enjoyment of the poetry. Especially when the poets are given to over-rationalizing the cheaper emotions. Et in Arcadia Ego Est, indeed.

So, why bring it up? Well, I have a very referential sort of mind, and one word often refers me to another word, which in turn refers to another phrase or idea...and the word "Arcadia" always suggests itself when I think of the word "Academia," largely because of the Oxbridge affectation of referring to college life as 'Arcady'...if I'm in a literary mood, at any rate...if I'm not, Academia refers me to Macadamia which refers me either to Mauna Loa or Macadam roads. But I don't have any sententious Latin citations to do with macadamia nuts, Mauna Loa, or macadam roads (though I've often wondered whether macadam roads, which are created by embedding crushed shells in bitumen, are somehow lexically related to macadamia nuts—I just checked YourDictionary, and discover that they are, somewhat, both words being derived from their inventor or discoverer, two different men bearing the Scottish name MacAdam). And then, once one thinks of the word Arcadia, one either jumps to the offshoot band formed by Nick Rhodes (my high-school celebrity crush), Simon LeBon, and Andy Taylor when Duran Duran temporarily split up, or one jumps to the abovementioned Latin sententiousness.

So, you are probably asking yourself, "Why was she thinking of Arcadia or Academia or Macadamia? and why is she telling us about it? and why at such disgusting length?"

Well, I was thinking about Academia because this morning I was pondering the idea of going back to school to get my MA in English Lit. I often think about this for two main reasons: because I enjoy learning, more than almost anything else in the world (besides shopping, eating, and orgasms); and because I miss being a University student, taking classes and pulling all-nighters and doing research in the Library and learning new things and ogling all the hot guys on the quad. But after a while I remember why I didn't pursue those studies in the first place—a phenomenon I discovered in Seminar classes like the abovementioned Milton, in which undergraduates and graduate students mingled, sharing lectures but having different assignments: a little bĂȘte noire we Eng-Lit types refer to as "Literary Theory."

"Oh, Theory," we undergrads would shudder when some poor sap grad student in a cheap suit addressed his Guest Lecture Assignment to us, some densely jargoned and speciously reasoned Freudian analysis of the three temples described in Chaucer's The Knight's Tale (and only Literary Theorists still credit Freud's painfully unscientific findings). "Theory," we'd sneer when the professor entertained a discussion with the grad students concerning Marxist subtexts in Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway (a discussion that would no doubt surprise and insult Mrs Woolf herself). "Theory," we'd nod knowingly when the grad students talked wearyingly amongst themselves about texts and subtexts and deconstruction and reconstruction, taking apart a piece of literature into the tiniest possible fragments so that the original intentions and ideas of the author no longer mean anything, or are discarded at the outset by rabid postmodernists.

The most terrifying part of Theory is that nobody can properly explain it. I once cornered a professor about Postmodern Deconstructionist Criticism (Theory at its worst, and, at the time of my BA work at SFSU, all the rage in English Lit graduate programs), and he was stumped for an explanation...because any possible explanation of Postmodern Deconstructionist Criticism would be longer and more tedious than the Postmodern Deconstructionist critical analysis itself, which is invariably even longer and more tedious than any piece of literature which it seeks to analyze. It is therefore Byzantine and useless...anything that becomes more complicated when trying to clarify it is, almost by definition, garbage. Like my good friend Cookie once told me, "You can't polish a piece of shit, you can only smear it around."

My opinion is that Theory is an invention of academecians whose sole purpose is to propogate the species. It is a purely academic pursuit and has absolutely no application outside of itself. Now I am all for circular pastimes, so long as they're fun and frivolous, but Theory takes itself too seriously for what it is: merely writing about other people's writing, to be read by people who also write about other people's writing, published in journals and volumes distributed only to people who like to read and write about people reading and writing about other people's writing. If I wanted to waste my time in self-referential scribblings about nothing which will be read by no one, I can write in my blog...for free! Why pay all that tuition just so I can put an "M.A." after my name and qualify for a job teaching yet more people to read and write about other people's writings?

Et in Academia Ego NON EST! So there!

But then again, there are all those college boys wandering around! I think perhaps what I'll do is get a clerical/management job on a college campus...that ought to cure me of Academia forever. Still, I can get all the College-Boys I want right here on the web...like this one:

By the way, kids, I finally got COMMENTS! Please leave one...or two...or whatever...

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