Dry Dock

Duke Maskell

If you teach in a polytechnic English department which, every five years, has to prove itself to the C.N.A.A. and thinks it had better know which way the wind’s blowing during the other four too, certain names and phrases become very familiar to you—phrases which are much like names themselves in that though they’re on everyone’s lips, they never seem to make their way as ideas into anyone’s mind. They become familiar as acts, utterances performed (and observed) in the course of duty and testifying that the duty is intellectual.

Five to ten years ago—in the mid seventies, say—you couldn’t keep your end up in discussion with the C.N.A.A. Visiting Party or, for that matter, hardly in any conversation at all, without at intervals performing the act of saying, “I take your point,” freely and frankly and as between equals. You took his point, he took yours, round and round the table. Each reassured each that he had a point and each at the same time assured all that he had the grasp to take it. So each and all were pleased with themselves. These weren’t fine words but they did butter the parsnips.

For three or four years though, I haven’t just taken your point, I’ve taken it on board. You insist. Your point’s no geometric abstraction, it’s cargo. I’m anxious to get your point on board too, because, as everyone on the quayside knows, if I don’t, it means, in telling phrase, I’ve failed to. So, what, for the past three or four years, I have found my­self loading up with at these discussions is, invariably (the sun doesn’t rise more predictably) the challenge represented by Foucault, Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, Structuralism, Post- Structuralism, Deconstruction and, in the hold next door, Marx, Serious-Academic-Work-Using-His-Achievement, Ideo­logy and Popular-Culture-As-A-Subject-Needing-To-Be-Discussed. And if I’m tempted to leave any of it on the quay, I don’t let it show (I don’t give myself away) for I know what the Dock Labour Board and the Customs and Excise will think, and do (“They treated the Visiting Panel like buf­foons,” said one, “ There’s no room in Higher Education for amateurs,” said another, now Chairman of the whole National Advisory Board). They 11 be really worried by it, angered by it and resent it. They won’t know what you mean by it, and they will be afraid this that and the other.

For what could more clearly disqualify you from clarifying structuralism (“Don’t tell us you don’t want to do it. We don’t want to know that here. You must do it”) than your opposing it? What prevents your responding to, the whole challenge represented by, Foucault, Lacan and Williams (Ray­mond not Ike) than your disliking them? How could you more plainly give away your unfitness for anything than by saying you’d joined the party of the Right? Whatever the objections on the Left? What decent man would speak of anything so irrefutably hard-done-by as a marginal group except as it speaks of itself? How could you better prove yourself a numbskull than by thinking today what you thought twelve years ago? How better prove yourself wrong than by having your mind made up? How can you pursue true judge­ment and avow your biases so overtly? Your biases? Christ­ian, Anglican, English, rightist, nationalist, anachronistic, nostalgic, parochial, eccentric, paranoid, sick? Arch-conserva­tives of regressive persuasion! (Not like in Canada, where the Conservatives are Progressive.) P*w*ll-, Scr*t*n-, Th*tch*r-l*v*r! B*m-s*ck*r! (You m*th*rf*ck*r, you!)

Lawrence did say the old forms had to go but I don’t think he had it in mind to replace them with the C.N.A.A.