Monday, February 26, 2007

Literary Oddities: Derrida and the vampire, Wystan's cabbies

1. Derrida and the vampire, in Orange County yet
So...the controversy whereby the family of deceased deconstructionist Jacques Derrida is trying to keep the balance of his papers away from U.C. Irvine, to which he'd agreed to leave them, involves a....vampire?

Maybe not, but the story (detailed in yesterday's Los Angeles Times) is just as strange as that sounds. Derrida was part-time at Irvine for many years. In 1990, he signed an agreement to leave the university his papers, until in 2004, as he was dying of pancreatic cancer, he heard that a Russian Studies professor and Serbian native was under fire for seducing a grad student (with "Transylvanian wine," the Times notes). Although neither student nor prof got UCI's backing, the prof was demoted. The student sued and settled.

In the meantime, Derrida used the case as an excuse to withdraw his papers from UCI. After his death, the family pursued the suit. Looks like UCI will have to share with an institution in France.

Although one of the commenters on this mess asked why a deconstructionist would ever honor an agreement, that elides the point. In the moment that Derrida made the commitment, he believed it. Many millions of moments later, he changed his mind. Oops. For bad or ill, the law tends to value commitments over arbitrary units of meaning.

2. Wystan Hugh Auden and the cabdrivers*
Buried in an article in the Guardian Unlimited about Auden's centenary is the Fun Fact that cabbies in York, England, Auden's birthplace, are memorizing his poetry so that they may entertain tourists to the city. (No doubt most of them are sweatsuit-wearing poetry fans, that rowdy lot.)

York is a lovely city, a refuge of sorts for me while I was at grad school in Leeds. Imagine if you will, however, hopping into a cab at the train station, only to hear "Lay your sleeping head, my love/Human on my faithless arm" before you can tell the driver where you want to go.

*Yes, there's a joke of the general "hello sailor" sort there somewhere, but you can do that for yourself.

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