“Poetry is dead,” he told me one afternoon, stirring a cup of tea. “You read it, classify it, then wham. Dead as a butterfly. Dead as a butterfly in a glass box. Classified et al.”
“You see, Shakespeare is like a butterfly. Put him under the critical microscope and he suffocates. He dies. Perfectly preserved: the Biggest Pressed Flower of Western Civilization. Every time a critic opens a laptop to spout some psychoanalytic claptrap about Hamlet’s Oedipal fantasies, he kills Hamlet. Well, Hamlet dies anyway, but that’s not the point is it? The point is that Hamlet becomes flat, two-dimensional. Ay, that’s the point.”
He opened a box of Schimmelpennincks. I gave him a light.
“The question,” he continued absently “is whether one continues to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous funding cuts or not. Is Shakespeare Studies finished? I for one am up for a pony ride–or rather a trip to the theatre.”
I was pretty sure he’d forgotten me at this point, but I offered a cigar to fill the void.
“The trick is in the staging,” he muttered “yes, it’s all about staging. The lift from the page. The Resurrection of the Butterfly. That sounds like an unfinished play by Milton, don’t you think?”
I nodded assent, though I had no idea what he was on about. More like an American science-fiction psychological thriller, I retorted inwardly.
“Imagine, for instance, that we take every work from the Western canon and compare it to every work from the Western canon. Marlowe versus Shakespeare. Eliot versus Pound. Joyce versus Everyone Else. Shatter our modern conception of the discipline. Warp time periods. Can you imagine!”
I could not imagine, nor could I see his face. The smoke was getting to me and the sun was setting. What I could imagine, was an end to this conversation, a hot toddy, and a book in front of my large fireplace.
“A multicoloured visualization of the entire English literary canon. With footnotes, of course.”
I waved away the smoke and took a swig of my brandy.
“Harold, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.”
“Indeed Frank? Pray tell.”
“You’re drunk, for one thing. And really, you spend far too much time on that…Twitter as you call it. Frittering away your time. And there’s rumour in the faculty that you set up a–”
I swallowed my distaste with my brandy.
“–blog, boring your eyes out, and everyone else I might add, with your narcissistic poems and epistemological crises.”
I could tell he was hurt but I didn’t retreat. I stood my rhetorical ground.
“Furthermore, this digital-pigital-whatever-it-is will never take off. Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays, and we’re still making lemonade.”
“Well, nobody’s buying,” he said gravely.
“Well, I’m not about to make it pink,” I snapped, picking up my robes and waltzing out of the office.