is a "morality play" in five cantos:
Ambition; Desperation; Victory; Crack-Up; Dirt.
"The center is
Clarity is the cruelest mode,
patients aetherized on the table must be code.
How then do I hide my hermeneutic rear
as I fashion a career?
How do I swell a progress, start a fad or two?
Advise the Dean, like me an eager goose?
Ambitious too, so he hates to be of use....
In the rooms the critics
come and go
sneering at the status quo.
On the dry grass, in a dry wind,
students throw a frisbee, joking.
The janitor laughs, smoking.
I suspect they see,
to the other side of me.
So how do I weasel words to shapes all new
and make them mean what I say they do?
In short, how can I be profuse
but adequately abstruse?
How can I roll this campus into a ball
and have it all?
How can I be, as I promenade
about the quad,
I hear the mermaids singing
but I do not think they sing for me:
If you want to get to Theory
let us tell you what to do.
You got to grease your thoughts
in Stan's Fish Stew,
then hold tight to the Devil's hand
and slide into Theoryland...
The dry wind steals their song...
Maybe I'm doing this all wrong.
spring like peonies,
now I'm retching on my knees.
How does one take a teeny, tiny pensee
and call it the Truth
and the Way?
Do I dare? Do I dare?
Can I sculpt upon the air?
My moods are startling and spastic.
hardly choose--paper or plastic?
Nooo! A bald spot
in the middle of my exegesis--
could anyone sell this cheese as thesis?
It's a dark noon in Gaza as theories clash;
books are not burned but analyzed to ash.
Look homeward, angels, and weep for truth,
Theory's good enough for youth.
In the rooms the critics come and sneer:
my intertext is all veneer.
I may have sinned, my closure fated,
knew this jargon was two months dated?
I can hear the co-eds cringing, each to each,
I'm scuttling claws, sunk out
I know now, as I promenade
up and down the quad,
I'll never be a god...
I want so much to be
a god. A bod!
I want to hear the co-eds singing,
singing for me...
In the rooms the critics come and grump,
Another tea for faculty and guests.
We stare and appraise: pests!
"She placed a
piece." "What's it say?"
Shrugs and grimaces, grimaces and shrugs.
Still, we hate her. Dry wine.
We're so damn amused by it.
Lost at love, adrift at tea.
Nod and murmur,
murmur and nod....
I fully intended to be a god
or at least a gorilla.
Odd, I do not detect one scintilla
of the respect due a gorilla,
never mind a god.
Can they actually see,
the antithesis side of me?
Greet and smile, smile and greet,
tasting the taste of my defeat. Oh!
From teeny, tiny sophistries,
I could grow gigantic mysteries...
If I could prove that out is in
is thin, that the hip bone
connects to the lip bone...
I can not, I can not,
I am academic snot....
Let me go then,
before despair overflows
into sneering bon mots,
let me go somewhere
I mean drink.
If Frankenstein hopes to stalk the academic
first he has to talk the monster talk.
Grammatology meets eschatology--
publish or perish, mystify
Next night as I ponder weak and
more and more and more hic beerful,
I feel the fact of my vanishing act,
and fall sobbing at my Mac:
"Oh, pretty please, poststructuralist
extract your dues!
I'll trade my soul like Faust and gang
if I could master Theory's slang
kick my colleagues screaming down the slope
and then be crowned King of Trope."
cheerleaders pangendered but ballsy
strut the postmodernist palsy:
"WITH PIPE AND TWEED AND TENURED GLEE
RIDICULE THE BOURGEOISIE!!
TERM THEM MOOT! TERM THEM BRUTE!
APPROPRIATE ALL THEIR LOOT!
YOU'RE SO, SO, SO, SO MUCH SMARTER....
HEY! CALL YOURSELF A GOD...LIKE YOU OUGHTA!"
I won't forget their festive,
as they swirl closer to undrape me,
this gaggle of geeks, and rape me.
When I commence
they snap: "A deal's a deal!"
The room explodes in the sensuous blurs
schemes and nonsequiturs.
I seem to ascend the Power of Babel,
everyone else is merest rabble,
above all human needs...
Theory Rules the lower breeds.
I know at last my life's mission,
bomb people with what is not,
explode the life they think they've got.
I know too I have the knack.
Memo to colleagues: I'M BACK.
tea; the topic,
of course, is me.
Faculty flutters 'round,
fearful of my frown. The Dean, all astutter,
wants to chat. I can stand a minute of that.
Meet and sigh, sigh and meet,
tasting the taste of their defeat.
It's true, my articles stun and depress the best--
did I not prove East is West?
All wonder buzzily what
might come next,
what daring new dance upon the text?
I have rolled this campus
into a ball. I rise above
a very paragon of paradoxy.
Students drop their frisbee to stare at
a co-ed teasingly squirms, wishing
intimacy with my terms.
And as I promenade
about the quad,
I detect the thought
behind the facade:
they think I am a god!
Now I hear the co-eds singing--
for me, of course.
Dante descends to a lower
and finds the critics there all well hung,
stroking their breasts in 3/4 time:
Ah, the joy of rearranging
present and past,
so the first shall be last,
and the boy shall be girl,
are only signifieds
In my students'
I see their happy surprise
at my gifts
for detonating seismic semantic shifts.
I devise the incisions
to revise the revisions
and reconstruct the deconstructed.
"Don't you know,"
"that is our task!"
They marvel to see
I am free epistemologically.
No proposition is so bizarre
I cannot turn it into law.
false! And anything's true!
Nothing means nothing
till I define the terms for you.
What glory to be free
and on top!
So let's stop
The most strange of bodily fluids
intoxicate our new druids.
Through ruined classics they cavort,
and murder to dissect for sport.
So much brave new work to do--
turning old literary nags to glue!
Humanistic twiddle, historicist piddle...
Enough! I'll terminate this stuff.
The nerve of poets dreaming large,
thinking they should be in charge.
Here's a modest proposal
for their disposal:
stand Poetry before a theoretical ditch
and expropriate the bitch.
rooms the critics stand and stew.
Screw them--I am on a roll.
Stroll and nod, nod and stroll.
like the dry wind
that parades the quad
as I prominently promenade,
a very god.
In my dreams
I see their youthful eyes,
their guilty surprise....
"But what," one asks, "are lies?"
A loss of sense? A sense of loss?
Never mind! I am the boss.
Stroll and nod, nod and stroll,
at me, I'm on a roll.
This career is hot,
like the dry wind....
as I promenade....
a very god.
In the modern geist,
The amputeed are all agreed,
more Theory is all we need.
The wind so dry,
the air so empty.....
something ominous and slack...
perhaps a lack....
Were I not
I might yield
to silly bourgeois sentimentality
or even cry.
is fun, so much fun!
And the work is just begun.
Now that I control the hegemonic,
I swear life's more sweet
than gin and tonic.
Why then do I drink so much,
why do I feel so out of touch?
Nonsense! I'm post-logocentric
Don't try--even I can't understand.
Imagine wearing Hitler's hat,
dictating what's what
and that's that.
Nothing is privileged
but my last diktat...
In dreams I see their swimming eyes...
their why's, their sad surprise....Oh!
A world with no facts at all,
why does it feel so small?
On feelings an interdiction!
I make notes toward a supreme fiction...
Oh, there is no water but only rock,
schlock and no order and the randy toad,
me, for whom the co-eds sing...
Wait, don't forget one thing--I am
I can show the circle is square,
decisively disprove the presence of air,
instantly create an ism,
a second coming of dense grammatical jism...
Things sprawl apart. The center cannot hold.
Mere Theory is loosed upon the world.
In the pogocentric university,
we have met the ennui,
and us "R"
A loss of sense? And too a sense of loss...
Berkeley, Harvard, Yale and Duke
make a nifty cultural nuke,
opening cans of tenuous
endowing Chairs of Coifs and Perms.
Next night as I ponder pale and confused,
less and less and less amused,
I fear the fact of my vanishing act
and reel shouting at my Mac:
"I want out, the deal undone!
I want to feel like everyone
Cheerleaders pangendered but ballsy
smack me about until I have a palsy.
"No," I scream, "you
are just a dream--
sophistical shanties on vacant premises
and empty plots, transparent
Camelots. Not real
in any degree.
You are Theory!"
Now they shrink back and sputter.
I lift the Mac, throw it from
to the gutter. The night burns
with the ashen colors
of well-smashed Grecian urns.
once interpretative ice,
becomes a puddle.... My head
softens with sickening hums
to a muddle.....And I
By medics wreathed in pills red and brown
Till human voices shake me, and I drown.
and I see the pity
for me. The Dean stares into space,
anywhere but at my face.
Some try to be polite and
but all can tell I'm merely normal,
not a god, not a gorilla,
in Theory's rainbow, barely vanilla.
I can no longer prove that two equals one.
No, not a god at all and, God knows, no fun.
Glance and stammer,
stammer and glance,
I apologize in advance
that I have traveled to Theory's dark heart
and come back a defective
Well, now that it's done
I dimly recall it was lots of fun,
kicking colleagues down the slopes,
making the best look like dopes....
And being this new kind of necrophiliac,
roughly laying books on their
And taking sense behind the fence
to play Doctor...
Ah, there's rumor I was the best.
East is West?
I can't even prove I'm not a pest.
I think l am.
Now I want to feel only dirt,
not Humanity's Hurt, which is easy,
but another human's hurt,
which always shakes me
At Theory's ground zero,
where no birds chirp,
they eliminate the hero
and solemnize the burp.
But what was it all about, how did
Was this what we meant, what we hoped to intend?
Once we said, read the works and dearly love them,
now we say, shove them,
and read instead our boring Crit,
and read instead our boring Crit.
I too could sing
OOOO that critical rag
that drapes everything in drag
so all's anomaly and confusion
and only one thing's real: illusion.
What's real now is that no co-eds sing,
certainly they do not sing for
I grow old. I'm a scold.
I have traveled into Theory's dark heart
and come back a defective part
or was one from the start.
If you would
like to know the background of this poem, please visit Lit4u.com (THEORYLAND link). You'll find the same Cantos + pages of commentary + Canto II recited by the poet.