I do, however, want to acquaint you with Warren Frank, the President of the fictional but true-to-life elite Chester College that provides the mise en scène for Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law. Whenever I have occasion to write about academic administrators, particularly college presidents, I always get down from my bookshelf that zoological classic by Ralph Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones, and I set it on a conspicuous spot on my desk just to remind myself what species of creature I am dealing with. President Frank is a case in point. Having invited two warring faculty members into his office he calls for a moment of silence.
“Why don’t we just sit here for a little while and let the silence wash over us? I find silence can be healing, don’t you?”
Frank was big on healing. He used the word often, both in his official role and in daily conversation. Healing was, in his view, central to the mission of the contemporary educational institution. Healing society by pushing for the eradication of social inequity. Healing students by liberating them from benighted beliefs and values inculcated by unenlightened elders. Healing the earth itself. He defined himself proudly by these beliefs and was not shy about letting others know it.
He’d come to Chester College from the University of California’s San Diego campus, after a brilliant teaching career in the cutting-edge field of studies known as Histexuality, wherein long-past historical events are reexamined via speculative research on the sexual behavior and erotic fantasies of key participants. His major work —Impotence: James Buchanan in Bed and in Office—not only won the National Book Award, but in arguing that the fifteenth president was paralyzed by the terror of being revealed to an intolerant public as a cross-dressing gay, altered the general view on the origins of the Civil War.
You’ve met President Frank, haven’t you?
Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law is a short book but it is long on laughs and long, too, on insight into the mephitic soul of contemporary academia. Beneath the humor is the admonitory realization that the intolerant freaks Harry Stein anatomizes are not only hilarious but also dangerous. The poet Horace used to say that he aimed to delight as well as instruct. With Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law Harry Stein manages to do both with Horatian mastery.
Probably, Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law would be filed under “Satire” in most book emporia. But is it satire? That is, does it exaggerate the reality of contemporary academic life in order to make a point? Or is it rather a species of documentary or an exercise in realism? Here’s Harry’s description of Francine Grabler, one of the feminist whack jobs that populates the novel:
American writer , academic and social activist. Influential in the self-esteem movement in the 1980s. Grabler has penned a number of best sellers, including I Am My Own Father, Mother and Best Friend, Narcissism is Not a Four-Letter Word, and The Romance of Self Adoration, and was a founder of the seminal anti-cruelty organization WAVE (We’re All Victims Everywhere). In her recent academic work, she has helped popularize the once widely derided idea that all living things, including single-cell organisms and crops, experience violence as pain. Author of Pain and Anguish, considered the definitive text on the subject, she holds the Phillip J. Donohue Chair for Advanced Oppression Studies at Chester College.
Outlandish, right? Wild exaggeration, no?
Be careful before you say so. Shortly after posting this piece, I received a press release from Sofia University (no, I’ve never heard of it either). It brought the glad tidings that Judy Grahn, a professor of Women’s Spirituality, will be honored later this month at the San FranciscoPride Celebration. Yes, that’s right, folks, Professor Grahn has been selected as the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshall. How proud she must be. Let me quote from the press release:
This very special award honors her many years of dedication to furthering the causes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) communities.
Since 1965, when she picketed the White House for Gay rights, and published an article in Sexology Magazine, Grahn’s writings have inspired and fueled second wave feminism, women’s spirituality movements and lesbian activism. Grahn was a member of the first lesbian feminist collectives on the West Coast, the Gay Women’s Liberation Group, which established A Woman’s Place, the first women’s bookstore, and The Woman’s Press Collective, the first all-woman press.
She has published three poetry collections, eight chapbooks, a novel, four nonfiction books and numerous short stories and articles. Her work has won her an NEA grant [but of course!], two American Book Awards [naturally], a Stonewall Award and a Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. Selected works include but are not limited to: A Simple Revolution, Edward the Dyke and Other Poems, Another Mother Tongue, the Judy Grahn Reader, She Who, Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World [you've always wondered, haven't you?], Mundane’s World (an ecotopian novel), and Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling.
The press release does not seem to be online, but there is plenty about Professor Grahn, her work, and her very special award at the Sofia University web site.
And people say academics don’t have a sense of humor! It sure gave me a laugh.