Saturday, March 25, 2006

Chapter Five (part 7)

(continuing the "all nighter" conversation between Cassie and her lovers P. and S.)

"It all makes me dizzy," I admitted.

"It should. Deconstruction's motto is 'the center cannot hold.'"

"Do they pay Yeats royalties for stealing that line from him?" Leave to S. to be irreverent. P. laughed.

"Deferring," I laughed, too. "I'm deferring my life right now, it's on hold."

"On the whole, you've lost me, Old Man" S. admitted with a yawn. Out of nowhere, I started giggling despite myself— the hour was getting so late, and besides, I can't be serious about heavy subjects too long.

"Hold on," S. objected with real heat this time, "Deconstruction sounds like this year's model, another flashy, trendy tool, nothing more. We've gone through a whole laundry list of 'isms' in class. There's Structuralism, Freudianism, New Criticism, who cares?" I felt pride in S. He wasn't intimidated by our "professor" like I am.

"Right," I chimed in, hoping for strength in numbers, "isn't this another stupid search for another stupid Holy Grail to open up poems and novels to hidden meanings the writer never intended? I may be a naïve reader, but anyone with common sense can see The Picture of Dorian Gray is really about a gay man in the closet and the harm keeping that secret does to him. I want to know the answer to the questions books offer, like whether Pip gets the girl at the end of Great Expectations? That last line— " I grabbed the copy I'd been reading after work and opened it to the last page— "'I saw the shadow of no parting from Estella.' It's so tantalizing, it leaves me with goose bumps each time I read or think about it."

"Ever the Romantic," S. sneered playfully, throwing me off-balance, "wasn't it Ambrose Bierce who said if you scratch a Romantic, you'll find a cynic who hasn't been disappointed yet?"

"OK, I'm a Romantic," I blushed, backpedaling, "but a cynic in many things, too. But what about an author like Colette?"

"What about her?" P. countered with a knowing smile.

"Well, I may be a naïve reader, but I know her writing isn't compelling because it's beautiful, it's compelling because of the insights we gain from reading her."

"Why do you read Colette?" P. asked me with a wink. It's a private joke between us I wasn't ready to share with S. I wanted to throttle "the professor" at that moment.

"I read her because she writes about young women like me— who want to know more about themselves— or life." I sounded pompous and gassy, I could see I was getting in way too deep. "I want insight from her books, not philosophy." S. winked at me when I finished because P. was rubbing his eyes, though he wasn't fast enough and P. saw most of it anyway.

"Then you'll find Deconstruction helpful because it isn't a tool, it's a way of looking at the world. We define ourselves by our texts: the laws, newspapers, books, poems, letters— or in your case, Cassie, by a bisexual exile from the Parisian theater writing books young women identify with. Instead of worrying about who Colette was, or whether her books are autobiographical, Deconstruction cuts out all the intervening bullshit."

"Sounds like a literary seduction," S. snorted, "a sort of intellectual penetration, yes? I've read Foucault, you know, with his bizarre theories about sex and literature!" He was less interested in the ideas than in the intellectual cat-and-mouse game, slyly grinning at his erotic allusion.

(to be continued)