Non interludusI'm listening to David Lodge's comic novel Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses on tape, but having found it replete with eminently quotable passages, I borrowed a copy of the book from a library. Imagine my astonishment to find in it a single tiny scrap of paper marking the very page containing my first quotation!
The two campuses of the subtitle are Rummidge University, a fictional campus in England, and Euphoria State University, a perhaps equally fictional American campus except that it is obviously modeled on the University of California at Berkeley. (If I were more familiar with English universities, Rummidge U might not seem so fictional to me either.) The State of Euphoria lies between Northern and Southern California, and Euphoria State University is situated across the bay from the city of Esseph (S.F. for San Francisco). You get the idea.
The setup is that the two campuses have an exchange program, and the professors (of English) changing places for the six-month period (of the late 1960's) described in the novel are Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp. Their appointments have come about unexpectedly for both men, Morris's as a result of his wife Désirée's having demanded a divorce but agreeing to a six-month's delay if he'll just get out of the house.
In this passage, Euphorian* Morris Zapp, who at age 40 could "think of nothing he wanted to achieve that he hadn't already achieved," has just been asked by the Dean of Faculty why on earth he wants to go to Europe. He has to stop and think about it:
There was always his research, of course, but some of the zest had gone out of that since it ceased to be a means to an end. He couldn't enhance his reputation, he could only damage it, by adding further items to his bibliography, and the realization slowed him down, made him cautious. Some years ago he had embarked with great enthusiasm on an ambitious critical project: a series of commentaries on Jane Austen which would work through the whole canon, one novel at a time, saying absolutely everything that could possibly be said about them. The idea was to be utterly exhaustive, to examine the novels from every conceivable angle, historical, biographical, rhetorical, mythical, Freudian, Jungian, existentialist, Marxist, structuralist, Christian-allegorical, ethical, exponential, linguistic, phenomenological, archetypal, you name it; so that when each commentary was written there would be simply nothing further to say about the novel in question. The object of the exercise, as he had often to explain with as much patience as he could muster, was not to enhance others' enjoyment and understanding of Jane Austen, still less to honour the novelist herself, but to put a definitive stop to the production of any further garbage on the subject. [p. 44]Wouldn't it be nice if someone would write such a definitive series on religion?
* Moristotle is a "Euphorian" also; I was born in Berkeley and might have taken UC Berkeley up on its offer of admission if I hadn't chosen to attend Yale instead.