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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Huh? (01/21/10)

TITLE: Deconstructing Dickens
By Carol Slider


“The inherent aporia of our empathetic yearning is, in effect, yet another futile quest for the transcendental signified,” said the lecturer, as blandly as if he had told us the sky was blue.

But perhaps he thinks the sky is purple, I thought. Or burgundy. Or an indistinct shade of mauve. If absolute truth is an oxymoron, maybe that applies that to nature, too.

I glanced at my notepad, but there were no notes on the page, only spirals and geometric patterns my hand and pen had drawn while my brain slept.

I tried to focus on the speaker again. I had given up a quiet evening to drive to an unfamiliar university campus, seek out an elusive parking space, and walk half a mile in a cold north wind to the lecture hall...

... So I should try to understand what he’s saying...

“... Can we, then, accept Pip as the putative center of the narrative, as the authentic voice? But authenticity itself is a discredited meme, another symptom of impotent Logocentrism...”

Well, maybe not.

I'd noticed the announcement a couple of days ago in the newspaper’s community events column:

City University’s Distinguished Lecturer Series will present special guest Dr. D. Ryan Bohring on Tuesday, March 10, at 7:00 p.m. Dr. Bohring, a noted nineteenth-century scholar, will speak on "New Approaches to Dickens’ Great Expectations." The lecture is free and open to the public...

Years had passed since I'd studied literature in graduate school, and I knew that literary criticism had changed since I'd last picked up a scholarly journal.

But I hadn't realized how much it had changed.

“If we accept Derrida’s proposition of sous rature, the inadequate signifier...”

No, I decided, I wouldn’t accept any proposition from the "Father of Deconstruction," not even an invitation to Starbucks for a double espresso... which I sorely needed. The lecture hall was frosty, my hands were like ice, yet still I couldn't keep my eyes open. If any theory had been discredited tonight, it was the notion that a cold room could keep people awake. Mine was not the only nodding head.

“... and so, it is by the trace, the variance, that we pry apart the layers of mythemes to reveal the binary opposition...”

Dr. Bohring looked like a stereotypical English professor—just the sort, in other words, that you might expect to talk about “mythemes” and “binary opposition” in the casual way that other men talk about football. He wore a tweed jacket over a rumpled turtleneck and jeans, and he had the obligatory salt-and-pepper beard.

The lecture attendees were an odd assortment of students (artistically dressed in different shades of black) and community members. Some of them looked grim, as if determined to understand Bohring’s lecture. Others had given up. The two white-haired ladies behind me had been stage-whispering about “Myra’s surgery” and “Alice’s new great-granddaughter” for at least ten minutes.

“... And so cultural contextualization inhibits our ability to view Pip’s narrative as an inauthentic discursive activity...”

Wait... Pip’s narrative as an inauthentic discursive activity?

I hadn’t heard much that Dr. Bohring had said, but these few words penetrated my dense brain-fog. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by “inauthentic discursive activity,” but I didn’t like the sound of it. The professor might be wearing tweed and blue jeans, but he had no metaphorical clothes.

When the lecture ended, I joined the crowd heading for the exits. Others seemed as anxious to leave as I was, though one of the ladies who had been sitting behind me whispered,

“Why, I didn’t understand a word he said!”

“Neither did I,” said her companion, “but we need to tell him he did a lovely job.”

Since I didn’t want to lie to Dr. Bohring, I left without meeting him and hurried to my car. I wanted to get home to my bookshelves; I wanted to reassure myself that Dickens’ novels were unchanged, his marvelously eccentric characters, settings, and stories intact.

At home, I pulled a volume off a high shelf. I settled in the nearest chair, propped up my feet, and read:

Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun one day. A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time...

And I traveled with Dickens into his vivid world, along a path that Dr. D. Ryan Bohring could never follow.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: The passage of Dickens quoted above is from the first paragraph of Little Dorrit.

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This article has been read 814 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Anita van der Elst01/28/10
Dry and boring, indeed! LOL! The lecturer in the story, not the story itself. The story was quite satisfying. Great job.
Rachel Phelps01/28/10
Okay, don't shoot me, but I was actually interested in what the lecturer was saying. I've only been out of college for seven months, and I was an English major!

Great concept for the prompt!
Patricia Herchenroether01/29/10
Great entry for "Huh." I hardly understood a thing until the end, which I enjoyed. I'm 5'6" and this was a 6'4" story. :)
Bryan Ridenour02/01/10
His thoughts were way over my head, but your writing and take on the topic were top notch. Well done!
Jackie Wilson02/01/10
Bravo to your character for recognizing that the problem was not with her own intelligence! And good for you for pointing out the two ladies who were ready to compliment, but without understanding.
Verna Cole Mitchell 02/01/10
I taught Great Expectations for seven years to vastly disinterested ninth graders; I really did my best to make them see those delightful characters, but, alas, they weren't ready for Dickens. I loved the novel, and I loved this story --every word. Wonderful take on "Huh."
Celeste Ammirata02/01/10
Loved the name of Dr. Dry and Boring. He sure was! I'm glad the mc didn't let the well educated, arrogant speaker dim his love for Dickens. Nice job!
Beth LaBuff 02/01/10
Your entry is perfect for "huh?"! I love how you constructed this, and your title is great!
Joy Faire Stewart02/01/10
Great opening paragraph and I enjoyed the sensitive mc voice.
Loren T. Lowery02/03/10
I could just picture my brain going to sleep and the "duh" moment blinking its warning. Great job, so well done with great, creative insight.
Chely Roach02/03/10
Witty, smart, creative, and spot on topic. Loved the MC, and especially the ending. Incredible writing.