Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Titular Revisit


You may have read my rant on bad titles last semester (and forgive me for assuming everyone blocks their time in semesters), but I am returning briefly to the subject after my “titular” opinions were validated by a Distinguished Professor this past week.

We were learning how to use various search systems and article databases at the university library, and our little smart-classroom session was being conducted by a British professor old enough to have earned that title “Distinguished Professor of Literature,” and British enough that most of us could only understand his every third word (which, by whispers, we would collectively attempt to piece together into sentences).  Like so many professors whom I end up liking enormously, this chap cut his critical teeth amid a campus full of 1960s activists and budding poststructuralists, and like so many of the same professors, he is rather older fashioned than the vintage of his doctorate would suggest, having grown up with the stuff, and then watching it turn into all manner of -isms and queernesses.

As we searched for whatever the embarrassed student called to the front of the classroom was in the mood for searching (“Faulkner + horses,” “Herman Hesse + Freud,” “Ergodic literature,” etc.), the good Doctor’s disapproval of certain titles returned by the search became immediately apparent:

“Multiplicity and whaaa?  Yuu-ni-ver-sal snopeism and blah, blaaaah… what kind of pretentious nonsense is all that?! That has to be pretention embodied! What the blazes?”

But inevitably (and thankfully for the class, as well as for the future of literary study), there would be a few results in each search that struck the Doctor’s fancy, or just had the right ring for him:

“'Horses, Hell, and Highwater,’ now there’s a title!  Oooh, ‘The Unappeased Imagination,’ that’s nice.  Oh look at that, ‘Whores and Horses’!  Faulkner’s good for some whores and horses.  Let’s see,'An insider’s view of depraved, deranged, drugged out brilliance’ – well!”

The Distinguished Professor complains of the same things as I: titles with semicolons, virgules, parentheses, long and trendy words.  Throughout our session he relates stories of job candidates whom he interviewed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, telling us how they all made sure to drop the names of the latest "fashionable" critics and "fashionable" criticisms (which some time ago always meant dropping the big “D”).  He likes the same things as I, in a title that is.  Short and intriguing. Strong but common words. The same things one looks for in the title of a work.  Perhaps a critic who uses an inflated title doesn’t value his or her own work as a work?  Maybe that's going too far, and I noted  in my other "titular" post reasons one might need a long, colon-riddled title.  I was just pleased to have a bloke like the Doctor agreeing with me on this.

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