Tuesday, June 16, 2009
by Barbara Eliasson
“This is inappropriate.” The chairman of the English department looked down at the chalk outline of the late unlamented literary critic, Brutus Pannem. “Dragging the body of a man like that into our conference room!”
The members of the department, gathered around the chairman, nodded. Over the years Pannem had dripped acid on their works. Understandably, all were secretly gleeful.
“Was he, indeed, dragged here from elsewhere? Or were there signs of a class struggle?” Professor Karle wanted to know.
“There was certainly no systematic pattern of signs,” said Professor Peers.
“It’s rather beautiful,” said Professor Jacob, staring at the figure in the carpet. “A perfect example of form without content.”
“What do we know of the historical and cultural context of this event?” asked Professor Green.
“Since when have you employed euphemisms?” demanded Professor Blunt.
The chairman tried to pacify his colleagues. “What’s important here is the meaning.”
“What meaning?” said Professor Derrman. “What can we know? Whatever appears to be the case here can always be undermined.” His colleagues rolled their eyes. In his youth Derrman had been overly influenced by the Yale critics.
“I’ll bet a woman did it,” offered Professor Missogh. “These female scribblers are everywhere, and some of them are vicious.”
“Oh, my God!” Professor Walter glared at Missogh. She looked as though she would gladly have substituted him for Pannem in the just-removed body bag.
The combatants were interrupted.
Standing in the doorway to the conference room was Professor Eccles, the maverick of the department. “One of those with no clearly thought-out theoretical stance,” the chairman muttered.
Eccles didn’t mutter; he roared. “What are you standing around for? Pannem was a narrow-minded, mean-spirited bastard. Evidently, someone agreed with me.”
He waved his hands at his colleagues with a shooing gesture.