why english teachers have all the fun

What is it about English teachers anyway? They’re either ruminating about loneliness and death, or sucking the marrow of life, or horny as hell. They just can’t help it. It must have something to do with the alchemy of text and temperament. Or maybe the deep connection between passion and imagination is to blame. I’ll wager a Benjamin on that. You want to inhabit a scene or talk about and analyze a character? Well, that takes desire. And everyone knows that desire is the start of everything mischievous and grand. Don’t take my word for it. Read The English Major by Jim Harrison. Say hello to Cliff, a 60-year old retired English teacher who has lost his farm and is recently divorced. Oh, and his dog has died, too. Cliff delights not in life. So how does he get his barbaric yawp back? He does what we all wish we would do but lack the English teaching cajones to pull off. Cliff goes on a road trip; he rues his divorce; he laments the loss of his dog; he bangs his former student—who “wears his dick to a frazzle”—and embarks on an “artistic” project to rename the Lower 48 and all the state birds. Cliff succeeds and gets his yawp back, just as Harrison succeeds with a prose style that’s plain and conversational. His writing has an oddly compelling yet digressive quality to it. Meandering is the right word. Harrison meanders everywhere, in the course of a chapter, a paragraph, and even a single sentence to boot, just to prove he can damn well do whatever he wants. Given Harrison’s love of wide open spaces and the rejuvenating power of travel, a meandering prose is exactly what the English teacher ordered.

2 Responses to why english teachers have all the fun

  1. Fredr says:

    Somehow I’ve managed to avoid reading something by Morrison. I see his books on the shelf regularly, but I always put it off by saying, “One of these days . . .”

    If I were to pick up something by him, what would you recommend as a starter?

  2. I’ve read The English Major and am currently reading Farmer which is really gratifying because I’m a sucker for descriptions of rural life, of fishing and hunting, etc. Although I’m only several pages in, Farmer is better stylistically. Less prosaic or flabby. K

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