One of my favorite Teilhard de Chardin quotes that provides a reason to write:
For me, writing is one path toward reconciliation, so I write.
Here is an excerpt from “Higher Education,” the story that will open the collection. As the spring semester winds to a close, I am looking forward to putting my book publishing work at the top of the to do list. Finally, there will be time for this work. My goal is to publish this fall–as a traditional book and as an e-book. I look forward to posting updates as I progress.
My goal has been to begin building a reading community several months prior to the release of the book, and this excerpt is a step in that direction. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I am glad to be posting this excerpt as it makes the pending project of publishing a book feel more real.
“Higher Education” is a story of when gay town meets gown in a college town, and it speaks to the romantic aspirations we have when meeting someone new and the questions that follow–as we decide if we should or shouldn’t. Here is the opening of “Higher Education”:
Tanya eyed Serge as she sipped her beer and returned her pint glass to the table with a loud report: “Here we are again, a fag and his hag fattening their livers.”
She laughed aloud as she scanned the men standing and posing around the bar. This was the lesbian’s life as she knew it—being surrounded by men while out with a gay male friend. Alas, she was used to this. It was perhaps easier anyway to focus on Serge’s actual chances than her own improbable ones when it came to meeting another woman—at least tonight in this bar. She confirmed her thoughts were more pragmatic than pessimistic as she once again surveyed the crowd. It was all men. She reminded herself that York Street Café was a boys’ bar, but then again, what else would there be when it came to gay nightlife in New Haven?
Watching Tanya survey the room, Serge responded: “I think we’re more like gay friends. I’m not sure a lesbian can be a fag hag.”
“Words, words, words . . . point’s the same,” retorted Tanya as she continued to assess the crowd before settling her gaze back on Serge: “You haven’t had a boyfriend in months.”
“I know,” replied Serge as he sipped his beer.
“And I haven’t had a girlfriend in years,” exclaimed Tanya.
“That’s because you’re too picky,” responded Serge.
“Not half as picky as these Yalies,” retorted Tanya. She glared over her beer at the men milling around their high top table. It was standing room only tonight, which was unusual for this time on a Friday evening. Tanya commented: “This place is packed tonight.”
Tanya noticed there were many more students in the bar than usual. She could tell from the college logos that branded their clothing. She could also tell from more subtle signs. The countenances of the fresh faced young men, who were confident of bright futures, tended to contrast the workaday weary faces that otherwise populated the bar and the streets of New Haven beyond. These post-industrially pale faces stood in stark contrast to the sun-tinted features of these certain young men, who were apparently out in droves this evening. There were Yalies, but there were many more Palies walking the streets of New Haven. For these people, college life looked like a mysterious alternate universe, something akin to a Hollywood film, despite the proximity of the campus to the city streets. While the locals were never quite tuned to the university’s academic calendar, much less the social schedule of the houses and fraternities, they were aware something pinged on those calendars when the bars and restaurants filled with students.
Tanya lost herself wondering over the surety of men, much less the easy confidence of these young men. One of these men, who was wearing a Yale tee shirt, moved in to stand behind her as she converted her disparate thoughts into words: “They can afford to be picky. They’re young, rich, connected, and they’ll get out of Old Haven someday.”
“They’re cute. I bet they make great boyfriends,” Serge responded as he made unavoidable eye contact with the young man, who was now standing directly over Tanya’s shoulder.
“Hah, get real! These Yalies wouldn’t give you the time of day.” The young man punctuated Tanya’s comment by winking at Serge. Unaware of the pantomiming behind her, Tanya continued punctuated her commentary: “Unless, it’s a few minutes late at night in their dorm.”
Uncomfortably uncertain of whether the young man was responding to Tanya’s comment or if he was just flirting, which felt unlikely, Serge sat speechless and continued staring over Tanya’s shoulder.
Displeased that her pithiness had not incited a response, Tanya demanded: “What are you looking at?”
“The Yalie winking at me behind you,” answered Serge.
“Wishful thinking!” snorted Tanya as she raised her pint glass to her lips as the man behind her winked again.
“No, he’s winking,” responded Serge.
The young man responded by closing and opening his eyes several times quickly, prompting Serge to extend his descriptive commentary: “And now, he’s blinking.” Responding further to Serge’s play-by-play of his actions, the young man raised his hand to his head and began tapping his temple, prompting Serge to say, “And, now he’s thinking.”
Serge’s cheeks began burning with a rosy hue, which let Tanya know he was not joking: “Oh, hell, I guess it’s time for my twenty minute trip to the bathroom.” Tanya rolled her eyes as she stood: “But I’m coming back for my beer, so keep your clothes on.” With that, she darted into the crowd.
The young man . . . the story continues this fall.
“Itch and Scratch” sums up my recent reading of Suzanne Langer’s Language and Thought (1953). After midterm grading, I finally found time to read this essay and unexpectedly encountered a rationale for erotic literature.
Langer offers an interesting distinction between a sign and a symbol. She uses this to argue for a basic difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. To Langer, our humanity rests upon this difference.
She asserts all intelligent animals use signs, which are “anything that announces the existence or the imminence of some event, the presence of a thing or a person, or a change in the state of affairs.” Accordingly, Langer views signs as a referent to reality, meaning perhaps a reality according to the correspondence theory of truth.
Langer argues a symbol differs from a sign: “The difference between a sign and a symbol is, in brief, that a sign causes us to think or act in the face of the thing signified, whereas a symbol causes us to think about the thing symbolized.” Langer sees a shift from reference to reflection as a variance between sign and symbol. In other words, she argues, there is a meta level recalibration in the difference between sign and symbol, and this is a movement from reference to reflection.
Langer samples her point nicely by suggesting there is a difference between responding to a name versus the named person: “The fact is that our reaction to hearing a person’s name is quite different from our reaction to the person himself.” There is the hallmark of effective teaching within this that only makes me admire Langer more.
The ability to evolve from referent response to reflection forms an important feature of humanity for Langer, who uses this distinction to assert the function and value of symbols: “The process of transforming all direct experience into imagery or into that supreme mode of symbolic expression, language, has so completely taken possession of the human mind that it is not only a special talent but a dominant, organic need.” She explains this need by analogizing it to the experience of dreaming as an essential part of the human experience.
Langer traces a line from dreams to the function they derive from as well as perform. She begins by pointing out their basic utility, which we might understand more readily today as hope (for is not hope a dream of tomorrow if not also the stuff of its nightmares?): “It is easier to dream than not to dream, as it is easier to breathe than to refrain from breathing.” Here, Langer likens dreaming to a biological function, which echoes Freud’s insistence on reading the psychic apparatus in terms of evolutionary biology.
Within this, Langer understands a progressive development, which she casts in terms of symbol mongering: “The special power of man’s mind rests on the evolution of this special activity.” Langer views symbol mongering as much being much more interesting than the mere interpretation of dreams. She sees it as a uniquely human activity that holds the potential to respond to a first and basic need within humans:
“Because man has not only the ability but the constant need of conceiving what has happened to him, what surrounds him, what is demanded of him—in short, of symbolizing nature, himself, and his hopes and fears—he has a constant and crying need of expression. What he cannot express, he cannot conceive; what he cannot conceive is chaos, and fills him with terror.”
Itch and scratch: Langer’s formation provides an additional way to think through my approach to erotic literature—as desire rises from the body the symbol mongering begins as the fingers respond.
The erotic word answers the individual’s need for understanding “what has happened to her, what surrounds her, what is demanded of her.” The itch of desire–much less what it leads to–all too often remains unanswered and unexplored in a culture that plasters the air with sex but refuses its social grounding. Erotic literature erects itself as resistance to this refusal.
Otherwise, as Langer points out–“what she cannot conceive is chaos, and fills her with terror.” This terror threatens a projection that forces abjection. Such terrors return us always to the recourse of language–in this case erotic literature.
There is often a high level of serendipity between what one randomly comes across and what they are working on, and my encounter with Langer provided synchronicity. My peek at Langer’s work has been refreshing, especially as it considers the productivity of language instead of the vampiric considerations that oft drown the productive consideration of literary aesthetics.
This productivity certainly appears in Langer’s argument for language: “Conception, not social control, is its first and foremost benefit.” Let us note, the quote says benefit and not only concern. In the halls of what passes for literary studies today, Langer’s statement is so radical it underscores how much language much less literature has been filtered through the institutional bias and fitted to the dominant discourse of our day. Rah, Langer’s essay leads toward something more productive.
Add some fuel if you'd like to keep the writing going!