Leadership Task Force Splinter IV (the “Fighting Lacanian mirrors”)
Monthly Maintenance meeting MINUTES, taken by Acting Recording Secretary Llewellyn Bonerston-Smythe, February 26, 2011
Committee convened 11 a.m., multi-purpose room 9086. Room found to lack chairs or table (broken up for firewood?). Moved to room 9066.
Discussed memorial service for Dean Waterman. Waterman was walking in Upstairs Gardens, strolling between the rows of snapdragons, running his hands along the rough springy spines of their stems, smelling the bitter plants on his fingers, humming tunelessly and happily to himself. He had just completed his monograph, the great masterwork that he had started in graduate school and that had walked with him through libraries and carrels and offices beyond count, that had weathered the cruel banalities of his dissertation committee, and that had appeared as “in progress” on 20 years of carefully composed CVs.
The spark would soon meet the tinder! The lighting that strikes slowly strikes surely, he thought, and how his carefully tended bolt would blaze! Oh, how it would light the sky, with its cheerful (and, he thought more privately, cheekily witty!) footnotes, its citations laid like traps throughout the text, the handsome ranks of his bibliography, like a vast, brave army!
The world had turned for years without a serious analysis of shoe metaphors in the works of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound; it need suffer this lack no more. Fiorucci-Mackintosh, who clearly enjoyed thinking of herself as honest but was in fact merely blunt, had suggested that Scott and Dumet’s Blasting the Soul had accomplished this analysis both well and thoroughly. Dean Waterman did not agree; he did not respect Scott and Dumet, who had giggled at him from behind a column at the FASHSS annual meeting. They were men of smoke; they would fade and blow away to nothing.
Dean Waterman had printed the crisp white pages and placed them in a box purchased for the occasion by Ms. Terry, and on the box he had taped a slip of paper printed with the address of the University of Arizona Party Project Press. The mailing tape shrieked on its spindle and parted with a touch of the blade. Dean Waterman had read somewhere that one must place clear tape over the address of one’s package in case the mailman carelessly exposed it to a squall, causing the ink to run.
In his mind Dean Waterman saw these inky streaks carrying him in miniature off the cliff-face of the box, a black Niagara plunging into ignominy, stealing away from the world the heavy overripe fruit of his mind, sending the aimless package into the dim hell of the dead letter office while Waterman waited, tortured, beside the phone. He used three pieces of tape.
Later in the garden Dean Waterman pursed his lips and quivered with joy as the very print-erasing squall that he had feared sailed into view over the trees, dropping fat insulting rain onto the heads of the snapdragons, darkening in subtle shades the red-brown mulch. Dean Waterman squealed; he had always wished to be caught in a rainstorm and to seek shelter beneath the wise, dripping head of a stately tree, as in a BBC adaptation of one of the English novels that he assigned to his students. He plunged through the ornamental bushes and the sparkling flowers and flung himself tittering beneath a smooth-barked tree whose genus was listed on a brown plastic plaque.
As the dean covered his head with his hands, Jimmy McManus, a fowler employed by the maintenance department, took aim with his Watts rifle and touched off the fuse. The payload struck the dean, who was wearing a large but realistic swan costume. Jimmy, looking forward to sharing the delicious swan meat with his friends in the university motor pool, sprang forward with his swan-bag at the ready.
As he donned his swan-gloves he noticed that the bird seemed unusually large and was wearing an inexpensive pair of Nunn-Bush penny loafers [rubber-soled and glued, no doubt—LBS]. A single crease marred the marmoreal expanse of Jimmy’s brow; his handsome eyes clouded, his eyebrows ascended and drew together as if raised on fine-geared pulleys. Against the tree he leaned his rifle; on the damp and fragrant earth he set his powder horn, his swan-bag, his swanning stick, the heavy duffel he carried filled with LL Bean catalogs. Rex, his fowling dog, stood attentive at his side, his own doggy eyebrows raised in miniature imitation of his friend’s.
He reached for the swan’s curiously bulbous and short-necked head, his fingers tracing the smooth pink check, trailing down the jaw to the dark van Dyke beard that he had so often kissed and stroked. “Dean, oh dean!” he cried, “Have ye heard what I done? I met me own true love and mistook him for a swan, and I shot him and killed him, by the setting of the sun!”
The swan stirred, and smiled and clasped Jimmy’s hand. “My dear, sweet boy,” Dean Waterman cooed, “the shot couldn’t penetrate the thick felt of my costume! I’m alive, and filled with love!”
At this point Prof. Manford, driven to a slobbering frenzy by cheap rum and Aftershock cocktails, drove his H2 over the dean and into the tree. The dean died instantly. Jimmy McManus suffered a broken arm and was hanged at dawn the following day for shooting Dean Waterman. Prof. Manford’s female companion, who gave her name as “Devin’Enfant,” adopted Rex, who escaped injury. Prof. Manford has been asked to attend alcohol counseling. Memorial service scheduled for Friday 4:30, Upstairs Gardens (in bad taste?).
Dean Farquar suggested that we should resolve the turf war between Program in Modern European Epistemologies and Cognitive Currents and the Epistemology of Modern European Cognitive Currents Division of the Epistemological Studies of Cognition in Europe Certificate Program.
LBS suggests a King Solomon approach, in which the entire budget is converted to fragrant woods and incense and burned on the Davidson Family Offertory Marble Bench unless one of the departments renounces its claim; Dean Farquar does not find suggestion amusing. Task Force Splinter IV asked to put together a whitelist of 16 faculty members who will form Epistemology Program Investigative Committee, which will wield no power but will advise Task Force Splinter IV.
Prof. Fiorucci-Mackintosh notes that Task Force Splinter IV lacks a process document covering the formation of investigative sub-committees. Working Group formed to examine the Task Force IV charter documents to determine if they address the issue; if this is not the case, Task Force IV will reconvene next month to address the formation of an exploratory corps that will examine the feasibility of drafting a process document.
Chet Masterson asked to give an update on the study abroad program in Ibiza. Manford recalled the metallic white of the beach, the salty-melon tang of his expensive cologne, the worrying tightness of the skin around his eyes—Chet Manford would wrinkle, he knew, at some point his face would wrinkle like a baseball glove, and he would be handsome then, as handsome as he was now, but in a different genre.
As a child Manford had indulged in small cruelties—smashing Matchbox cars, shoving, and later he had exercised sharp humor that belonged more to meanness than to wit. With every tear in a friend’s eye and with every stroke of his tongue he had cast away some luminous, sacred part of himself, burying in the careless soil of the past a blue-eyed boy who talked and sang with his soft stuffed bear, who turned towards his parents as a sunflower to the sun, who cried secretly in his bed at the end of the Velveteen Rabbit. He had picked up the idea that it was better to be hard and cold, and that the soft and universal sweetness of childhood was a burden to cast off as quickly and as vilely as possible.
But with each barb and each cruelty he felt a little sad; and later he felt less and less sad, and this too was a blow, but it fell on a man who was sensible only that he should feel sad, and was not really sad, nor was he happy. Now he stood on the beach in Ibiza and realized that the hard, sharp-tongued, successful, debauched Adonis too would die and be buried with the blue-eyed boy, and on the edge of the grave would stand a leathery and confident man, without pity, and also without a great many other things.
He felt sick in the sunshine, with Devin’Enfant sleeping in his obscene and luxurious hotel room (she would have to go, he thought), and a grimy European sidled along the sand towards him, grinning in bold embarrassment, his shoes wet, his suit trousers wet to mid-calf, a drying splash of water gray across his chest. “Ach mein Gott,” he breathed, a long-fingered hand tracing Manford’s lapel, “Herr Ralph Lauren has left behind an Amerikanische Ur-Hunk.”
The European claimed to be an armiger from a much-reduced branch of the Saxe-Coburg family, as did so many in Ibiza, and he was a club promoter, as were so many in Ibiza. He pawed Manford with undisguised and partially ironic lust. He had polished his act; Manford laughed. “You look like a man who likes to get nuts,” he told Manford, his thick German accent forgotten for the moment, “are you ready to get nuts?”
Their colloquy finished and the European sidled down the beach, calling after a bronzed French couple who couldn’t have been older than 17. The girl’s dark hair swung as she walked; Manford could see the lean muscles working in the boy’s straight back.
The European had left Manford a pair of VIP passes to a club called AZATHOTH, which he had promised would be “some seriously off-the-wall shit.” Manford spent the day drinking piña coladas and reading The Proceedings of the Royal Society of Shoe-Fondling Studies, in which he had published two research articles and a book review. He took notes mechanically, with a pencil, without thinking. Fiorucci-Mackintosh had contributed a soporific essay on the significance of shoelace material. Manford looked forward to telling her that this subject of inquiry was “a dry hole,” and that Irene Ng had exhausted what little substance it possessed in the 1990s.
That night he parked the rented Miata directly in front of AZATHOTH. He smoked angrily while Divin’Enfant made subtle changes to her makeup. On his BlackBerry he saw that he had several dozen messages from students in the program. He flicked the rollerball up and down and up again, selected “Mark all read,” and replaced the phone in his pocket.
The European from the beach stood at the door, beckoning. In the dark he seemed less effete, more muscular, his smile meaner, his ineffectual sexlessness put aside. There was something funny about his hair, Manford noticed, two odd little cowlicks like horns above his temples. Divin’Enfant walked past him through the door. Manford followed.
Within all was cold and quiet, save an almost inaudible fluting. He could not see Divin’Enfant. He thought again of the blue-eyed boy, who would have found nightclubs alien and dull. The fluting grew louder. Manford stood in a black void. Behind him strong rubbery limbs dragged across the air. A stench, part fishy, part reptilian, washed over him. The piping grew louder, and he heard drums, booming, clumsy. The pipes shrieked and skirled, Manford found that he was weeping. Pounding footsteps sounded, the gross, parodic dance of some heavy-bodied clumsy thing filled with malice, without thought, without pity or love.
He saw bleak cities of antediluvian onyx, reared with nauseous asymmetry before a monstrous basalt bowl stained brown-red with offerings. Wind carried the rubbery tittering of cruel, sharp-clawed, laughing things. Within a porphyry mansion carved with scenes of depredation and stomach-turning sexual excess something long-dead, wrapped in rags, animated with stiff and ugly motion turned towards Manford, its canine face obscured beneath filth-streaked bandages, its hand clutching a sack wet with some nameless fluid that dripped in time with the hateful drums.
Divin’Enfant parted a velvet curtain and reached for him. She pulled Manford onto a balcony that looked over a rainbow-lighted floor, a glistening black bar, a DJ booth hung with kitschy silver tinsel. Dancers danced. “Does that make me cra-zay?” asked the singer. Divin’Enfant gestured angrily for a cigarette. “I fucking hate these arty high-concept bullshit places,” she told him through the smoke, her New Jersey accent, her long legs, her eyelashes huge, rough-textured.
Discussion of graded paper return process document task force leader search committee vote held for next meeting. Minutes of previous meeting approved (with certain unkind stylistic comments). Meeting adjourned, 1:15 p.m.