Page 19 - Jack Foley | The true litterateur
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"I wasn't in school to learn about literature"

                The  psychological  pressures  of  college  life  are  considerable,  and  there  isn't
                space to deal with them here. Cornell had some interesting teachers- including,
                eventually, Paul de Man, who was a major influence on my understanding of
                criticism and on my view of Yeats. There was also an excellent course on Dante
                taught  by  Robert  Durling,  and  I  read  Joyce's  Ulysses  in  Arthur  Mizener's
                course.  (Mizener's  take  on  Ulysses  was  rather  conservative:  "I  want  to
                emphasize the wonderful traditional novel that Ulysses really is." Not Ulysses
                as  an  experiment  in  liberated  language.)  I  wrote  considerably  less  poetry  in

                college than I had in high school, partly because I was being asked to consider
                poetry critically, in ways that were not fully familiar to me. What exactly did you
                mean by that? Was that put in only for the sound?--as if that were some sort of
                terrible  thing  to  do.  Robert  Durling  was  my  freshman  English  teacher,  and  I
                would  show  him  my  poetry.  I  remember  his  description  of  my  early  work  as
                "mellifluous  Yeatsian  vapidity."  He  smiled  as  he  said  it.  But  he  said  it.  (I
                remember  thinking  that  "Thomas  Wolfian  vapidity"  might  have  been  more

                I  had  hoped  that  Cornell  would  give  me  what  I  lacked  in  Port  Chester,  an
                intellectual community. It gave me something, but it didn't give me that. In my
                sophomore  year  I  took  a  great  many  English  courses.  I  wanted  to  learn
                everything  at  once.  What  I  discovered  was  that,  no  matter  the  period  or  the
                writer, Chaucer or T.S. Eliot, the same kinds of questions were being raised,
                questions of irony, paradox, etc. This discovery made me realize that I wasn't
                in school to learn about literature. I was in school to learn a grid which could
                be applied to almost any piece of writing (though woe to the writer like Shelley

                to whom it didn't apply). This was a useful thing to learn, but it lessened the
                authority of my instructors.
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