The March 12 issue of Fiction Friday from the Culture Alliance, included a special excerpt from Dancing with Derrida, an as yet unpublished novel by Mary Grabar, a writer and college English teacher, who earned her Doctorate from the University of Georgia in 2002. Her writing has been published in the Weekly Standard, American Thinker, Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government, and with the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. She has also published short fiction and poetry. Learn more about Dr. Grabar at her website MaryGrabar.com.
Dancing with Derrida is set within the University System of Georgia. At the system’s flagship campus, the paths of Morgan Fay, a feminist professor of rhetoric, Sean O’Toole, a hapless lovesick cowboy struggling to meet his teaching duties while completing a dissertation on Robert Penn Warren, and Michael McMann, a California transplant, body-builder, erotica aficionado, and moving company entrepreneur collide in a comedic novel about “the promise of new love and lessons learned about the true nature of postmodernism, feminism, and the sexual revolution.”
Here is the prologue from the novel’s manuscript.
The dawning of the twenty-first century was a time when all things were possible–-especially at Georgia’s flagship university, the University of Athens. With caps shading eyes, boys sat far back in the driver’s seat, sprawl-legged at the wheels of open-air Jeeps, steering from their laps, fingers expertly guiding vehicles down easy paved streets. They rode lightly over each speed bump or pothole, with the ease of cowboys on Old Paint. Or they may have just come back from tracking large game in the bush or outback. Their casual clothing, bespeaking of days in the great outdoors—-multi-pocketed trousers in sturdy fabric, knit shirts, eye-shading glasses and caps—-certainly gave the impression of a genteel upbringing and a life of sportsmanship: of paddling the Colorado, of hitting balls on the links just beyond backyards, of mud-dogging through the mountains of North Georgia, of frolicking in the warm waves of Jamaica or Aruba with a buxom tanned classmate, and then refreshing themselves with the finest fermented beverages.
Alongside these young men on the venerable sorority and fraternity row of Milledge Avenue, girls, chatting on cell phones and gesturing dramatically, one-handedly commandeered trucks as big as those once only used by sharp-eyed armed men collecting deposits from banks. Flipping shiny, coiffed blonde locks, they saw not the dented sedans and hatch-backs of the hoi polloi, their instructors. Nor did they much seem to notice those who stood at bus stops under the blazing sun or who defiantly sauntered out, regarding neither crosswalk nor walk sign and had no metal to encase themselves in air-conditioned, leather-seated comfort. The blonde girls owned vehicles worth as much as a house outright in the neighborhoods in which the pedestrians lived.
These who were recognized by the college girls as “underprivileged” held a bag of potato chips and can of soda purchased with food stamps at the neighborhood store in order to make change for lottery tickets, a relatively new form of fund-raising in this region and justified by even some of the Baptist legislators as being for a good cause: the hope of a college education for those students who could demonstrate academic acumen by the maintenance of a B average.
The scholars from Cobb, Cherokee, and Forsyth Counties were well-informed about diverse cultures from their classes. In fulfillment of community service requirements (so important to admissions counselors) they had tutored them and played games with them. The girls expressed their cultural appreciation through attire and various gymnastically adept dance moves.
The male scholars commandeering Jeeps and Land Cruisers expressed their cultural appreciation by blaring bass-enhanced lyrics about “bitches,” “hoes,” and the “po-lice,” while flicking cigarette ashes out windows, as they zoomed past shade-less barrack-like brick enclaves, containing lines strung with laundry, chairs on narrow stoops, holding the defeated, house-slipper-ed and ailing—and waiting for the coming of the Great Society. The bright young men were on their way to find diversions from the stresses of scholarship.
These shining stars of the educational system of Georgia to whom the proceeds of the state-sponsored scholarships were awarded were headed to the heart center of Athens, a metropolis designed to meet their needs. There, they could buy essentials needed to pursue their studies–-crystals and trinkets, retro baubles for their abodes, smoking instruments, dream catchers, recordings of Native American chants, cute little navel-revealing outfits, copies of Playboy and Penthouse, notes for the classes which they did not have time to attend personally, varieties of caffeinated stimulants enhanced in effect by guitar strums blasted from speakers for last-minute group cramming, and likenesses of snarling bulldogs on every product brought to fruition by the culture’s best creative minds in marketing, produced for as much profit as possible and shipped back from distant shores for purchase by those intelligent enough to attend this venerable university which this mascot represented.
During the evening and pre-dawn hours, the aroma of spilled beer steamed from the pavement, entrapped there by the heavy Georgia air. From doorways came the insistent strumming, grinding, and growling that expressed the youths’ revolutionary and insightful observation: that the world that they had been born into was an unjust place. R.E.M. and the bands that had sprung up in imitative tribute expressed the angst and bemusement in the souls of the hordes wandering (not too smoothly) down the sidewalks of Clayton and Broad Streets late at night. As their audiences had been encouraged to do all their young lives, these bands “emoted” about the injustices around them, injustices furthermore that they were becoming even more attuned to as they furthered their studies at this institution of higher learning. So what could they do but whip out magic cards from wallets and purses that would allow them to ease their sorrows with a single swipe?
Once in these dens of muted lighting and cymbal-like clanging, the young scholars would pretend not to evaluate the opposite-gendered peers. Girls pranced in to these cool havens of refuge for undergraduates, discretely reveling in the way their jeans revealed stomachs flattened by years of dance lessons, gymnastics, and swimming, and tanned by days at the pool or tanning salon. Above were handkerchief-size tops in pastel gauzy material or clingy filament from which peeked shoulders, backs, cleavages, and pierced navels.
Here the misunderstood could come among their own, make their statements of rebellion against the older generation and the mass culture. Here they could place themselves into their own tribes, which they marked by carefully selected attire purchased at shops of the ex-urbs or high-rent in-town districts that catered to their discerning tastes and needs for self-expression. The look was casual, jeans rubbed strategically, to show sympathy by imitation those undocumented workers who carried bricks. No thighs rubbed together, nor did waists hang even by a pinch over dangerously low pants. Shorts never exposed a dimple. Straight teeth flashed like light bulbs. All had bright hair, bright teeth, bright complexions, bright, un-bespectacled eyes.
While the girls displayed their newly acquired female assets with a studied innocence and insouciance, the boys displayed a look that was a casual country club elegance, of gentlemen who did not have a worry beyond the charming of teachers and the occasional hosing off of mud-splattered vehicles. These scions carried themselves with a confidence befitting those of their birth. Their muscles, kept up at the multimillion dollar recreation center created for them, allowed them to carry themselves with ease. No stoop-shouldered scholars here. They were broad-shouldered, confident about their bodies–of hoisting whatever needed lifting: whether a Frisbee, a keg onto the back of a Jeep, or a coed during one of their frequent contests of alcoholic and sexual revelry. These gentlemen, quantitatively at the advantage in the student body, had their picks among these harems, the daughters of Cobb, Cherokee, and Forsyth Counties who walked with heads held high while maneuvering betwixt tables and clusters of students, giving casual glances from behind strands of shiny hair that needed to be flung out of eyes over bared shoulders. The young masters held beer bottles like working men and surveyed the parade of flashing, pierced navels like bored sultans.
However, the city center did not offer a place of succor to scholars only. Many who had finished or attempted to finish a higher education, but had found upon inspection of their inner souls that they were artists, gathered here as well. These artists used their bodies as canvases. Their attire was distressed as well but carefully selected at vintage shops that catered to their unique tastes. Much of the clothing was black and set off with violent colors, and purchased at a shop named for a distant relative of a junkman for three times the price one would pay for more conventional clothing bought at a retail outlet run on the principle of the profit margin and operated by the corrupt and unimaginative bourgeoisie—like Wal-Mart. The artists marked themselves off into their own tribes, wagging chin studs as they asked for orders from behind the food counter. Rejecting the oppressive dress codes of their patriarchal Western Judeo-Christian cultures into which they had been hoodwinked by accident of birth, they chose instead to follow more authentic native traditions. Their earlobes, in tribute, were being expanded by infinitestimally small gradations by specially imported round earrings; the goal was to extend them to the dimensions sported by their self-chosen forebears: the bushmen depicted in the National Geographics their parents had scattered around the great rooms and playrooms in their attempts to add further educational enhancements to the foreign language immersions, IQ enhancement musical series, baby yoga sessions, and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. These young emigrants from the suburbs felt even more strongly than their peers the stings of injustice and demonstrated their empathy with multiple piercings of sensitive body parts and expanses of epidermis injected with ink. They were the individualists, the artists.
The artistic and non-artistic supported each other in the local economy, both practically (the J. Crew set needed people to make their food) and spiritually. Thus the sons and daughters of Cobb, Cherokee, and Forsyth Counties would write in their essays about the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment for self-expression, in whatever way an individual should choose. Such tolerance extended to just about any issue. Why should gays not be allowed to marry? To even entertain the notion that they should not would demonstrate a pitiful and grossly uncool close-mindedness. A sort of John Stuart Mill-ian ethos informed the moral codes of this generation that understood global perspectives, that would set out to change the world, that had been coached in conflict resolution, that dialogued honestly and openly about their feelings, and that was accepting of every culture, every lifestyle. Why should anyone deny them their dreams and pleasures? Live-and-let-live was their philosophy: they had been sharing bodily pleasures without shame since puberty. Yet, they could just as easily be best friends with the other-gendered person—even on the same day, reverting back to that platonic status with ease. They had been taught in school to look upon sexual choices as purely personal tastes in recreation. Class discussions usually ended with the most sophisticated of them sitting back and expansively closing the argument for tolerance of any activity–drug use, prostitution, homosexual marriage, group marriage-–as long as it did not interfere with their own rights to pursue their own pleasures and earning potentials in the new global economy. Whatever one wanted to say about them, one could not accuse them of intolerance.
All lived peacefully amongst each other. The sons and daughters of Cobb County held no grudges. They were served by the budding rock stars and conceptual artists, when they did not have to practice or put together installations involving cast-off items like old pots and pans, floor sweepings, inoperable blenders, and condoms. These conceptual pieces enlightened anyone who would look about their reasons for outrage at the state of the world.
Professors and graduate teaching assistants, like those who had worked for them since pre-school, lived only to make learning more enjoyable for them. If any problems or questions arose, all the young scholars had to do was ask–for extra help, time, or assistance. Such requests only enhanced transcripts with comments like, “shows motivation” or “good leadership potential.” If they were not performing to their universally gifted potentials it was obvious that the fault lay with those who were not talented enough or enthused enough to bring those talents out. After all, they were to be the future business leaders and traders, teachers, and disseminators of information. They would have it all: rewarding careers that served humankind while stimulating the economy, frequent (ecologically sensitive) trips below the equator and to that new Disney World called Europe, and homes with five bedrooms and three-car garages.
But they had not been sheltered. Their parents had made sure that they had the experiences of delivering meals in their SUVs to shut-ins or of helping the underprivileged learn how to swim or make objects out of popsicle sticks. They had fulfilled their hours of community service in high school. They were very open to new cultural experiences, not only of cuisine, but of learning about the oppressive conditions confronting those who were not as bright or as good-looking as they were. In their classes, they read eagerly books describing the plight of peasants or undocumented workers mowing their parents’ lawns. They learned new words like “colonialist,” “phallologocentric,” “hegemony,” “ethnocentrism,” and “discourse.” They wrote earnest papers for which they received, of course, A’s.
Whatever the signature mark of the tribe they had chosen, these young Athenians were proud of the way they looked. Girls tossed hair styled so that it would flip easily and then settle back into haute couture wantonness. Boys let hair that matched J. Crew outfits grow only long enough to shade eyes with a hooded, slightly countercultural defiance. They showed their appreciation for all cultures by sampling the varied foods that Athens had to offer: an epicurean’s dream of sushi, sirloin burgers smothered in Swiss cheese and portobello mushrooms, pecan-encrusted trout with cheese grits, beer, slow roasted chipotle barbeque pulled pork sandwiches, beer, pan-seared tilapia with Asian vegetables, beer, double mocha lattes, beer, peppercorn crusted strip steak, chicken piccata, chipotle barbeque burritos, beer. The boys carried around their spending power as bank magnates of old did, expressing nary an anxious thought upon the whipping out of wallet. The girls minced self-consciously behind shopping carts in Kroger or Target with their own cards in slim purses held against slim hips, glancing surreptitiously at the young lords hauling off twelve-packs, while studiously discussing purchases of various packages.
The world was at their beck and call. Real estate tycoons and contractors had heeded their desire for housing befitting those of their superior intelligence levels. No cramped dorm rooms for these scholars! For their comforts, developers came and plowed down acres of forest and paved over fields. They razed trailer parks populated by the culturally narrow-minded and therefore insignificant: the working class. They constructed for them condominiums, townhouses, and apartments with all the luxuries such near geniuses deserved: wireless and cable computer connections throughout to facilitate their studies, personal sunken-tub bathrooms, tanning beds, Olympic-sized pools, clubhouses, weight-rooms, all accessed along wide boulevards like Epps Bridge Road, which had once been a narrow back road along which college instructors rented simple duplexes behind stands of pines, where they could in relative quiet and affordability mark up papers and peck out articles on pedagogical improvement. Such instructors railed against such ecological destruction, harnessing all the activist strategies they had learned in their own schools of higher learning. They circulated petitions, spoke at council meetings, held up placards, and wrote letters of protest to the editor of the free alternative weekly newspaper. They attempted to enlighten their charges in the mandatory environmental literacy classes and beyond. They told them the importance of respecting Gaia. They revealed to them the destructiveness of the Western patriarchal Christian hegemony. But though they could get their students to write pedagogically correct papers, they commiserated that the hyper-capitalist environment of the late twentieth century was too much of an obstacle. “It’s the system,” they would repeat among themselves.
Professors and graduate teaching assistants, indeed, would all but present their lessons on silver platters. They were dedicated and took a missionary delight in their tasks. They entertained their charges with jokes and references to the icons of their own particular youth culture and then apologized when no laughter of recognition came forth. They congratulated the scholars enthusiastically on their correct opinions of tolerance and for “sharing” in class. They worked into the night designing web pages and Power Point presentations, and marking multiple drafts of papers, well aware that their livelihoods depended on the good opinion of those they were here to serve and who would evaluate their abilities to motivate their superior test-taking and scoring minds at the end of the semester. These student-clients owned the sidewalks, the streets, every loud, cavernous bar and restaurant that catered to their tastes. They owned the 215-year-old university, its buildings, books, computers, grounds. All its employees worked for them, from the endowed professor, to the Mexican slapping concrete on the bricks for the new technology center, to the janitor washing their blackboards. They knew they were the creme de la creme of the University System of Georgia, the highest test-scorers, the individuals marked by teachers as having best “leadership potential,” the sons and daughters of parents who from birth had nurtured their abilities to be anything they wanted to be. Of course they would do well on their finals, papers, and projects. If they failed to perform to their potential, they knew whom to blame.