"The center is
not the center."
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.
Doubts 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.
I can hardly choose--paper or plastic?
Nooo! A bald spot in the middle of my exegesis--
dare I 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,
Who knew this jargon was two months dated?
I can hear the co-eds cringing, each to each,
I'm scuttling claws, sunk out of reach.
I know now, as I promenade
up and down the quad,
I'II 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,
exfoliating Donald Trump.
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. Dry wit.
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!
If only! From teeny, tiny sophistries,
I could grow gigantic mysteries...
If I could prove that out is in
and thick 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 walk,
he first has to talk the monster talk.
Grammatology meets eschatology-
publish or perish, mystify or die.
Next night as I ponder weak and tearful,
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 Muse--
extract your dues!
I'll trade my soul like Faust and gang
if I could master Theory's slang
and kick my colleagues screaming down the slope
and then be crowned King of Trope."
cheerleaders pangendered but ballsy
strut the academic 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, cackling shrieks
as they swirl closer to undrape me,
this gaggle of geeks, and rape me.
When I commence to squeal,
they snap: "A deal's a deal!"
The room explodes in the sensuous blurs
of ponzi schemes and nonsequiturs.
I seem to ascend the Power of Babel,
everyone else is merest rabble,
I'm aloof, 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.
Yet another 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 the campus
into a ball. I rise above them all,
a very paragon of paradoxy.
Students drop their frisbee to stare at me;
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 rung
and finds the critics there all well hung,
stroking their breasts in three-four time:
"Brother, can you paradigm?"
Ah, the joy of rearranging this world,
present and past,
so the first shall be last,
and the boy shall be girl,
of showing that everyone's
bonafide realities are only signifieds
In my students' eyes
I see their happy surprise
at my gifts
for detonating seismic semantic shifts.
Presto, I devise the incisions
to revise the revisions
and reconstruct the deconstructed.
"Don't you see," I ask,
"this is our task!"
Don't you see,
we are free
That's the meaning
No proposition is so bizarre
I cannot turn it into law.
Everything's false! And anything's true!
Nothing means nothing
till I define the terms for you.
Don't you see, now we are 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.
In the rooms the critics stand and stew.
Screw them--I am on a roll.
Stroll and nod, nod and stroll.
My career's hot,
like the dry wind
that parades the quad
as I prominently promenade,
a very god.
In my dreams I see their 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,
look 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,
Theory is prosthetic device;
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 a diety
I might yield
to silly bourgeois sentimentality
or even cry.
No, this 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 man!
Don't try--even I can't understand.
Imagine wearing Hitler's hat,
dictating what's what
and that's that.
but my last diktat!
In dreams I see their 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 a god!
I can show the circle is square,
decisively disprove the presence of air,
instantly create an ism, concoct
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" it. Oh, shit...
A loss of sense? And too a sense of loss...
Berkley, Harvard, Yale and Duke
make a nifty cultural nuke,
opening cans of tenuous terms,
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
else." Cheerleaders pangendered but ballsy
smack me around 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 the window
to the gutter. The night burns
with the ashen colors
of well-smashed Grecian urns.
My heart, once interpretative ice,
becomes a puddle.... My head
softens with sickening hums
to a muddle.....And I am mended
By medics wreathed in pills red and brown
Till human voices shake me, and I drown.
Another tea, and I see the pity
for me. The Dean stares into space,
anywhere but at my face.
Some try to be polite and formal
but all can tell I'm merely normal,
not a god, not a gorilla,
in Theory's rainbow, barely vanilla.
I could not possibly prove 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 part.
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 back.
And taking sense behind the fence
to play Doctor...
Ah, there's rumor I was the best.
Prove East is West?
I can't even prove I'm not a pest.
I think l am.
Now I want to feel only dirt,
ordinary human hurt,
not Humanity's Hurt, which is easy,
but another human's hurt,
which always shakes me
helpless and queasy.
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 we begin?
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 our boring Crit instead,
and read our boring Crit instead.
Once I too could sing
0000 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 me.
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.
E N D
A recording of Canto 2 is at the end of the page.
I've long thought, can reasonably lay claim
to being the best long poem
in modern American literature.
Well, one of them.
Please tell me,
what is the competition?
It's so difficult to write even one page
that anyone wants to read, never mind reread.
If you read THEORYLAND once a year
for a decade,
you'd probably enjoy it just as much
the last time as the first.
It's odd that way.
is available as a slim paperback
I was worrying a lot about higher ed; my alumni magazine wouldn't publish an article the way I wrote it; I was broke; and I was reading about the theoretical currents of the 20th century, things like Structuralism and Deconstruction. The more I understood, the less impressed I was.
Over a few magical weeks, all my irritations coalesced into the epic ditty I call Theoryland. Writing entertainingly about such hifalutin stuff is nearly impossible. Fortunately, T. S. Eliot provided a framework. I sort of channeled my story through fond memories of his two great works--The Wasteland and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
You Lit majors would feel all this anyway. For those of you who never read Eliot, no problem. Theoryland is one of the oldest, saddest stories there is--a guy who wants desperately to move ahead in life. He'll do anything.
(By the way, line 5--"swell a progress"--is from Prufrock. Progress is just an old-fashioned word for procession; and this was Eliot's way of saying that Prufrock thought himself good only for being another person in a parade..."Critics" refers here to professors who engage in Crit...As for Stan's Fish Stew, well, there was a famous professor in the middle of all this, Stanley Fish, who seemed to many to be the poster boy for the excesses on campus. The verbal/musical allusion (you can hear it in the video) is to a Pete Seeger folk song, something I loved as a teenager.)
©Bruce Deitrick Price 2011
My first review was from Sarah Bobson, friend, writer, teacher. She objected to the insider jargon, although she said she understood why I had to use it. Otherwise, she was very positive, even gushy: "I loved your poem...This is a side of you I've never seen, a side I'd like to see more. I loved the imagery, the metaphors, the literary allusions, the ideas presented, the playful tone, the concrete behind the illusive denseness of some difficult abstract words...I want to say again, I loved it, and I love you for writing it."
Well, that's a truly nice review. And yet, as I had just finished the poem, I was too sensitive and uncertain to know whether I could trust her reactions. Years go by. I have the idea of a literary site, and with grave trepidation I take out Theoryland...Damned if it didn't make me cry again, even though I'd already read it 50 times, or maybe 100...Sarah's right, I decided. It is good. Quite poignant. The first-person narrator works. Sad and fun at the same time. I love this thing. Yes, I'll publish it Canto by Canto, make a big deal out of it...
>>>>>>>>>>>> REVIEWS FROM CYBERSPACE:
“Bruce, you are the most overeducated rapper I have ever heard. That poem's a trip.” Ethel Van Waveren, Indiana, after Canto IV went up.
"Bruce - great read, and so true!" Gabriella Morrison, painter, after Cantos I-III appeared on Absolute Arts.com
"I look forward to Canto III, which will tell of how you have de-programmed yourself. I sincerely hope you will finish it by March, because as you know, April is the cruelest month. Good luck!" Ann Isik, apparently of France, after Cantos I-II appeared on AbsoluteArts.com
"Bruce, I like poetry best done live, and this one would probably be great live in a club somewhere..." Paul
Lynda Lehmann is a cyberfriend. The way she writes is almost an artform in itself. I have cut but not edited. You can see her other art (painting and photography) on innersights.blogspot.com:
"Bruce Price's words play on the reader's mind like the flicker of water over colored pebbles in a stream, throwing glints of light into our awareness, glimmers of thought that make up a larger vision.....Bruce's sense of humor prevails, even as he defines a central dilemma of the post-modern human experience: the more devoid our hearts are of connection, the more we seek to become demi-gods unto ourselves. Bruce's eloquent cynicism is thrust into the halls of academia, which makes his premise all the more entertaining, and just as imposing and frightening: even the most educated and enlightened among us are jaded by the tragic ontological deficit of our time. The dichotomy: we are either not religious, too religious, or clamoring for the Godhead ourselves--sort of a ridiculous polarity perched on a precarious fulcrum. If only we were to feel connected and in harmony with the world, our vision enhanced in the warm, soft light of real spirituality, we would not be hiding behind silly constructs, stressing dogma instead of connectedness, harmony, relationship...And so we are left instead to dance a frantic existential jig, perpetually hopping from foot to foot to dodge the bullets of our own extremism. What is extremism, after all? Whatever form it takes, it comprises a desperate attempt to compensate for our individual and collective emptiness and psychic/spiritual deficit. But we fall on our faces and the illusion finally cracks like a brittle mask, and we recognize in horror, who we have become. Bruce Price's poem "Theoryland" has made me ponder all this....One aspect of our insipid response to the crushing depersonalization of our time, whether bolstered by the jargon of academia, by riches or positions of perceived power and control, is a failed and failing attempt to exercise some command over our lives, to create a meaning we cannot find. To this reader, what Bruce Price has written is a stunning gem of honesty and ironic self-awareness. No longer able to carry the burden of thought, as both our facility with language and our institutions fail us, we take refuge in polarities and oversimplifications, forced to align ourselves like cogs in some vast and powerful machine beyond our ken and control. This is my opinion, based solely on my personal subjective perception.....In "Theoryland," Bruce's humorous juxtaposition of the narrator's jargon with his misdirected strivings, underscores the glibness and arrogance of some academicians, analysts, and critics: purveyors of fine distillates of truth unobtainable by the masses...I commend Bruce for his profoundly creative spirit, and for his courage and eloquence in placing this tragic-comedic dimension of the human experience squarely before our eyes. The poem flows well and clearly pours forth its meaning, no small feat in spite of being inspired by another poet's works....Yet pedantry is subterfuge. Whether in government, organized religion or academia, taking one's own words too seriously is the worst form of idolatry; all arguments (lacking infinite qualifiers) are sophistries. The idol wears a polished suit, but the armor protects only air. The emptiness within is echoed in the dark reaches of the night sky, that will never be illuminated by formulae."