Jacques Derrida’s Umbrella

I caught today’s The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor on the Classic Minnesota Public Radio station we stream every morning here in Voorburg, NL.  I heard his soothing, unmistakable voice and hurried over to check the clock, it was 1:15 p.m. our time, and at that point of the day I am usually at the high school library working or, since it’s summer, out reading in my turquoise webbed chaise in the garden under the umbrella.  It’s time to get the podcasts on my iPod and let myself enjoy the Almanac all the time!

Today’s featured birthdays were: Arianna Huffington founder of The Huffington Post which I read occasionally for political commentary and, mostly, for trashy celebrity gossip, then Iris Murdoch who I haven’t been able to read ever since reading John Bayley’s intimate, sorrowful Elegy for Iris: A Memoir (1999) about their long love affair and her eventual, gruelingly slow decline and death from Alzheimer’s, and then Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstructionism and one of the key writers that ruined graduate level literature study for me in the nineties.

Flashback.  Deep shudder.  “There’s nothing outside the text.”  “Everything is text.”  Derrida and his followers were required reading in my graduate courses at Miami University, and reading their essays and treatises felt more akin to playing a semester-long mad lib round where for every normal verb in the course you would use “deconstruct” or “subordinate” or “subvert”, and for every adjective you would use “contradictory” or “logocentric” or “irreducible”.  The “apparent systematicity” of a text would be, under the sharp scrutiny of Derrida and his believers, which included my distinctly frog-like professor who was angling for tenure, ripped apart to uncover the ellipses and gaps in the text that are fraught with meaning and, ideally, subversion of the text itself!  Wow, that’s a lot of pressure on an author and their work, but hey, we were taught that it wasn’t about the author, the author was dead…um, wait, that was Barthes.  At any rate, it was all very interesting enough for a course or two, but when I think about my career in libraries and literacy, I send a quick, loaded prayer of absolute thanksgiving for dodging the bullet-lure of university teaching.  I wanted to live literature, not just deconstruct it, and here I am!

The poem selected for today was one everyone who lives in Holland can enjoy, “Black Umbrellas” by Rick Agran, where the images of rainy Seattle and coffee shops and lost umbrellas flow through the lines reminding us that lives lived here by the North Sea make us “intimate with rain and its appointments” as well.  This poem reminds us that we should take advantage of the days inspired by rain, the interruptions of our routines a thunderstorm requires, the diving into warm hallways to escape a downpour.  We should embrace the poetry of the drops every now and then, indulge the impulses that make children jump into puddles and make us forget our umbrellas or rain pants for our bike rides home, because it lets us be reborn somehow, lets us go home the way we came into the world “wet looking.”

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