University Diaries
A professor of English describes American university life.
Aim: To change things.
Contact UD at: margaret-dot-soltan-at-gmail-dot-com

Read my book, TEACHING BEAUTY IN DeLILLO, WOOLF, AND MERRILL (Palgrave Macmillan; forthcoming), co-authored with Jennifer Green-Lewis. VISIT MY BRANCH CAMPUS AT INSIDE HIGHER ED

UD is...
"Salty." (Scott McLemee)
"Unvarnished." (Phi Beta Cons)
"Splendidly splenetic." (Culture Industry)
"Except for University Diaries, most academic blogs are tedious."
(Rate Your Students)
"I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere,
except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer,
and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Friday, May 12, 2006

UD's Entry for the
Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta Contest

*** In which you write a short story made up entirely of bits and pieces plagiarized from earlier works of fiction. ***

The Tortured Artist

My tale is prompted by a newspaper story I happened to read about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage. (1)

It did not irk the poor subject of my story to live always in one shabby room; he had no need to be surrounded by beautiful things. I do not suppose he had ever noticed how dingy was the paper on the wall of the room in which on my first visit -- when I finally forced the door -- I found him. (2)

His is a story, I suppose, about a failure in intelligence. (3)

One morning he’d learned that his writing room had been broken into and looted, doubtless by a company of strange troops bivouacked on the edge of town and doubtless abetted, if only vocally, by his own fellow citizens. That night he had mounted to the attic with his hammer and his handful of nails and nailed the door behind him and threw the hammer out the window. (4)

His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines. (5) All of us, during those hard war years, had to be content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky. (6) But I saw on that ivory face a special expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror -- of an intense and hopeless despair. (7)

I had an inkling of a fiery, tortured spirit, aiming at something greater than could be conceived by anything that was bound up with the flesh. I had a fleeting glimpse of a pursuit of the ineffable. I looked at the man before me in his shabby clothes, with his great nose and shining eyes, his red beard and untidy hair; and I had a strange sensation that it was only an envelope, and I was in the presence of a disembodied spirit. (8)

I had never seen him reading — no, not even a newspaper. For long periods he would stand looking out, at his pale window behind the screen, upon the dead brick wall. (9) When he grew blind he would sit hour after hour in that room with sightless eyes, and seeing, perhaps, more than he had ever seen in his life before. He never complained of his fate, he never lost courage. To the end his mind remained serene and undisturbed. (10)

One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, 'I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.' The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur, 'Oh, nonsense!' and stood over him as if transfixed. (11)

"Stop lying! You know and I know that I am dying. Then at least stop lying about it!" (12)

Two days later, I found him strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones. (13) I leaned down to hear his final words: “There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over. …I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round--round and round and round--it makes me dizzy! …I really have discovered something at last.” (14)

Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? (15)

“The feeling of banality, the disgust of banality,” he went on, “has always mingled with my fear; but now suddenly I’ve moved forward into a new knowledge, a new understanding… (16) Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he has made it, it is not given to all to know it…” (17)

Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. (18)



(1) Nabokov, Introduction, Lolita.
(2) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(3) Lessing, To Room Nineteen.
(4) Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
(5) Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener.
(6) Camus, The Plague.
(7) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(8) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(9) Melville, Bartleby.
(10) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(11) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(12) Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych.
(13) Melville, Bartleby.
(14) Gilman, Yellow Wallpaper.
(15) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(16) Lessing, The Golden Notebook.
(17) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(18) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.