A Teacher Who Changed My Life


I don’t know if he still walks the planet. He’d be at least 85. I tried looking him up on the Internet, but there were hundreds with his name.

He was just a young prof teaching an evening course, Introduction to Literature, at Eastern Michigan University. He would change my life.

The course featured Oedipus Rex, Gullivers Travels, The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms; short stories by Mansfield, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Jackson.

He had a unique way of teaching, like a language teacher, parsing a verb cluster, focusing on verbal inflection. Literature became electric, pulsating with nuance.

It was beautiful! It was inspiring.

He taught me to see behind the literal—that good writers, like their poet kin,
weave multiplicity; that the literal isn’t the text. It’s what lies underneath. Hemingway critics dubbed it “the iceberg technique,” three quarters hidden.

Words were never simple things. They were latent with connotation.

He taught me the subtlety of irony, the discrepancy between statement and meaning, expectation and event, appearance and reality; the role of symbol in undergirding theme and prognosticating outcome.

In short, he taught me how to read: Good readers were translators. Literature exhibits its own grammar of codes and rules, imposing a specific exegesis.

He and I clicked. He had wanted me to take a creative writing course with him, but I had other priorities then.

He urged me to pursue a Ph. D. and join the profession.

Two years later, I began the long journey that would define my life.

Being an English prof won’t get you riches, but making hoards of money was never my life acumen. Ironically, the money pursuit may make us poorer.
Saul Bellow, my favorite novelist, conveyed my aversion to the Faustian wager aptly in Seize the Day: “Uch! How they love money, thought Wilhelm. They adore money! Holy money! Beautiful money! It was getting so that people were feeble-minded about everything except money. While if you didn’​​​​​​t have it you were a dummy, a dummy!”

I owe considerably to a young zealous professor with Keatsian fervor for the aesthetic dominion, who gave me entrance to “the milk of Paradise” (Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”).

Thank you, Franklin Case!

–rj

Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

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