Anxiety dreams

Charles Butler hannibal at
Mon Jan 24 17:23:20 EST 2005

The academics on the Spenserian list I belong to (obDWJ - her son is a
member!) have recently been sharing the anxiety dreams they have experienced
connected with teaching. I was very taken with this one, and thought some of
you might be too, especially if you're old enough to remember the days of
Yale deconstruction at its most intimidating. It's reproduced with the
writer's permission...

This dream was dreamt by a good friend of mine in the early '80s,
when he was a junior visiting fellow at Yale for a semester. Let us
call him Miklosc:

Miklosc was informed at the outset of his dream that he had been
invited to deliver a prestigious lecture to the assembled English and
Comp Lit faculties of Yale. The topic of his lecture was to be "The
History of Criticism". The night before his lecture, after an
eternity of confusion and terror, he suddenly had a revelation of
what he could lecture on. Not only was it insightful, pithy,
comprehensive and daring, it was reducible to three short brilliant
points, which he wrote in numbered form on an index card and put into
his pocket. He appeared the next day in the lecture theater, which
was at the top of Bingham Tower on the Yale Quad, but in a
steeply-raked auditorium full of expectant people. In the front rows,
their countenances indicating skepticism, sat: Harold Bloom, Paul de
Man, Geoffrey Hartman, Jacques Derrida, Frederic Jameson, Paul Fry,
Patricia Spacks, and other Yale faculty of similar standing. Suddenly
Miklosc realized he was dressed in baggy spotted pants and large
shoes, and sporting a prominent red nose on an elastic string. Taking
out his index card and placing it squarely on the lectern, he began:

"Ladies and gentleman of the faculty, I am about to lecture on "The
History of Criticism". But before I begin, I wish to explain why I am
dressed in this outlandish fashion. I am dressed this way, you see,
because my lecture contains no jokes." He grinned.

There was a solidly disapproving silence. Miklosc addressed himself
to the index card and its first point.

Suddenly a gust of wind swept the card off the lectern and up the
steeply raked stairs. Excusing himself with another sheepish grin,
Miklosc sprang after it. Just as he reached for it, another gust
moved it further up the stairs. He followed, whereuopn another
gust... and so forth, until finally it was blown out of the upper
exit door and into the dusty and dimly lit stairwell behind. With
ever-increasing desperation, he groped after the index card, and
finally retrieved it at the bottom of the staircase. Whereuopn he
scrambled back up the stairs and into the auditorium. To his horror,
it was now completely empty.

Running to the window and looking out, he saw Geoffrey Hartman
furtively climbing into a taxi on the corner below and gesturing to
it to go away fast. He pursued it in a taxi of his own, tailing it
all the way up the hill to the Chemistry laboratories. As he entered
the long corridor, he saw Hartman vanishing around a corner ahead.
Rounding the corner at a sprint, he saw him again, entering a
side-door into a lab somewhere towards the far end. He sprinted down
the corridor, but could not find the right door, and began throwing
open each door in turn, only to find all the labs empty. Except the
last. Here was Hartman, seated at a bench behind a bubbling array of
retorts, tubes and beakers. Miklosc went up to him, waving his index
card desperately and pleading: "Look! Look, Professor Hartman! There
really WAS a lecture!"

With an air of weary disappointment, Hartman stared at him from
behind his eyebrows and remarked mildly:
"Do you know, Miklosc, when genuine intellectuals look at you, they
wonder if you're real."

At which point Miklosc awoke in a cold sweat.


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