A LA RECHERCHE DE TEMPS DEMI PERDU:REMINISCENCE AND VERTICAL TIME IN MEMORY

I was reading a book “Beginning Theory”(Peter Barry, 1992, rev.2002, 2009), an analysis of literary critical theory from liberal humanism(“close readings” of texts, set up as ahistorical and apolitical and viewed, arrogantly and hegemonically, as “objective”)upto feminist readings, historicism, postcolonial studies, and, yes, lgbt and queer studies. Peter Barry is(a) Professor of English at Aberystwyth University, where I was student of English Literature from 1978-1982. Even reading this( and listening to Schumann’s late and struggling Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra), my eyes are starting to fill with tears. It is sad we never undertook a course with such a non-hegemonic framework; and I am beset by(mainly felicitous)memories, which give a bitter-sweet feeling to this recollection and attempt to link the past with the present.

As I read, I remembered  the liberal humanism, pre structuralism, (never mind poststructuralism and all the schools of critical analysis that went with it)dominated course I undertook at “Aber”,( as the town and university are affectinately known by its denizens); where the most radical text we read was  Eagleton’s Marxist theory, the very Eagleton who notoriously ignores lesbian and gay issues(well, Marx and Englels were homophobic); and where the emphasis was on the (Leavisite) great “canon” of writers, usually male, or women having to pretend they were male, ( with the exception of Mary Gaskell),if, like the Bronte’s and  George Eliot, they were trying to get published; white or PURPORTEDLY heterosexual(usually male again, though many of these writers were secretly homosexual/gay-Forster, Melville, James; or probably  bisexual-D H Lawrence). In other words, it propped up a sysytem which was partly reflective of the dominant male-controlled, academic-bastionned, often upperclass power centre. Though we DID, refreshingly, study Welsh writing in English(Anglo-Welsh): authors like David Jones, and Caradoc Evans.

Now Barry, a (?current still)Professor at Aberystwyth  has, to quite large extent, overturned and re-written this(though including the liberal humanist school still as part of the historical progression). This post 1970s approach , of course, makes great sense:no piece of art can be divorced from its political, historical, sociological framework; no author can FAIL to imbibe some of this, be it consciously, semi-consciously or sub/unconsciously. It is risibly reductive  to think otherwise.(I challenge you to give ONE example:even the most rareified and ascetic of authors: eg that fey critic, Walter Pater, was a repressed homosexual man, trying to write of subjects that mattered to him through a veil of “diaphanousness”, which, literally, means a shimmering transparency, but which in his {necessarily} coded language meant the effervescent beauty of young men-not that he wasnt interested in Rennaissance painters and things Hellenic too; he was).

SO I am somewhat melancholy that I missed out on this commonsense, historically accurate(in the sense of LOTS  of parallel histories and subcultures, not as much recorded as the dominant one I have already described) trajectory of English literature.

And there were taunts from one student and one lecturer (that I can remember) about “bummers” and the like; the like of which certainly helped delay my coming out as  gay man, which had as its catalyst the novels of gay authors like Forster(“Maurice”), Vidal(“the City and the Pillar”); but which were drawn to my attention by another gay student, not as part of  positive images on the course itself. So again, homosexuality, womanism(black women’s studies), feminist studies, race studies-all invisible.

But, when I was  reading the book, I was immediately transported back to the lecture -theatre of 1981, where we were “taught”(very much “objectively”/”empirically” taught) DH Lawrence,( ironically by a Welsh activist!); and to the building on stilts- the new university was built on a one-in-ten hill-where the “new” English literature Department was housed.

Yet, I do not feel(wholly) alone: I feel a tenuous connexion with Peter Barry: he too was taught a traditional liberal humanist approach to English literature(in the 1960s); he went on the journey i am going on now(by reading his book); and it gives me some heart.

So, my madeleine was this book!

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About decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)
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2 Responses to A LA RECHERCHE DE TEMPS DEMI PERDU:REMINISCENCE AND VERTICAL TIME IN MEMORY

  1. Merry says:

    Interesting. Your experiences at Aberysthwyth were rather different from mine at Ohio University (1970-74). It was a medium-sized university (my graduating class was about 3,000) and had a reputation for being politically left-wing. I can’t speak to what was offered at OU on LGBT studies other than, as I’ve mentioned before, in the linguistics course I took, “Sexism and Language,” a gay man was guest lecturer one day. I can’t recall if there was a women’s studies program at the time but certainly feminist courses. A degree in African American studies was offered. One of my English courses my first year was black literature.

    OU is in Athens, a small town in the Appalachian part of the state. People of many different backgrounds were on campus the years I was there. Local Appalachian kids, rural, urban, people from New Jersey, many foreign students (for me a Kuwaiti boyfriend), a racial mix. People of different sexual orientations, of course.

    Hippies, Hara Krishnas, Jesus freaks.

    A free-wheeling place, a party school, lots of drugs. So I heard. And I saw people, strung out, lying on the sidewalks on a Friday night.

    In those days professors slept with their students.

    OU was and is still known for its school of journalism, so many writers on campus.

    One of the art professors believed he was William Blake reincarnated. I remember a mural of his on a campus building. Angels.

    Oh, if only you’d been there, Steve. We could’ve had fun — such interesting discussions. Except, alas, you were a little boy at the time.

    Anyway, you blog entry was my madeleine. Thanks! Much love.

  2. decayetude says:

    What a lovely evocative account, Merry, of YOUR time at uni; it sounds very liberal-hippie; like the bit re the Blake mural; u did much more interesting and cutting edge modules than me, but I never regretted going to “Aber”, though was my last choice cos i didnt get grades for Oxford etc; but it worked out well; a world in miniature; culturally, it should be the Welsh capital!Love Steve

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