|The Future of Literary Studies|
The other day, as I was reading in the Alderman café, ensconced in an armchair, an acquaintance, a brother in immigrant experience, acknowledged my presence with an abbreviated greeting. Upon noticing the burning red volume in my lusty arms, he asked, “What are you reading?” I was not surprised. My acquaintances and friends, especially those who waste their youth in the coffee and literature-induced euphoria of the Alderman café, oftentimes ask one other about their reading material, then they offer thoughtful or thoughtless comments, and, finally, they sigh about how they would never have time to read everything that interests them. It is not necessarily an expression of their thirst for knowledge: it could be a lamentation on their inability to organize their time optimally—in other words, a statement of their defeat by procrastination and various other diversions.
But that was not this man’s intention. He rolled his eyes at my mention of Chaucer, and called me “irrational” and “abnormal”, implying perhaps that going to commerce school and planning to be a desirable, ethnic husband were rational and normal decisions. He prophesized my future, too: in a few years, he declared, I would be on a street corner, hungry, with that gigantic red book of mine in my arms. He could not have accidentally chosen the street corner! The Riverside Chaucer thus became my scarlet letter, since the interest in anything not conspicuously profitable is obviously twisted, downright perverse. In my adversary’s money-greedy, respectability-seeking eyes, the big, incandescent volume transformed into an adulterous A, an undeniable sign of my weakness and moral corruption, an obvious token (not to say chancre) of my selfish, unnatural, non-procreative love for an unworthy subject. To tell the truth, my critic was right, but not completely. My aspirations are higher. Instead of being just another literary whore, I hope to become a literary panderer. My slogan will be: Amor vincit omnia!
If I never reach graduate school, which is probable, I will open a motel. My friends from Pakistan have already agreed to back me up. The motel will, of course, rent rooms by the hour, but there will be one significant change. We will not have any Gideon Bibles, not because we are Muslims, but because we are cunning. Instead, we will put The Riverside Chaucer in every room, so that a curious small-town man-slut, or a misunderstood punk-rock cheerleader, could access the wealth of Middle English poetry unimpeded, immediately after the act. I am not going to deny that some will be uninterested. Still, I am sure than the big red volume will change the life of at least one poor debauchee. From there, we can work the streets. Every homeless person, every streetwalker will flash The Riverside Chaucer like a sign of recognition. Medieval literature will become the drug for the new generation. Ironically popularized, it will spread from the ghettos into suburbs. Rebellious suburban adolescents will keep a copy of The Canterbury Tales in Penguin translation in their cars, because they cannot take the intensity of the real stuff. The government will try to create a campaign “Just Say No to Chaucer”, but it will be too late. I will have already taken over the world with the gigantic, incandescent book.
|TEI markup by John Unsworth|