Imagine a world in which you’re no longer a professor of literature, teaching the canon, but a professor of cannon, teaching the cannon. You realize that more sophisticated methods of delivering ordnance have arrived on the battlefield (and on the briny) (and in the cobalt, cobalt sky) yet you believe in a simpler, more classical war. “These implements”, you lecture, “might become requisite again, given the many catastrophes that may befall humankind, returning us to a more primitive, and enthralling, imposition of will.” A proper professor of cannon should teach the architecture of the device—the solid spaces and the negative—as well as the intellectual aspects of field artillery. Angle of fire and rate of fire, to be sure, but also the type of spark and type of propellant that ultimately lob the ball toward the fortifications. Your specialty, “Collateral Damage”, has yet to become unfashionable: the howling cannon-fire gone astray, and the ensuing despair of the unintended targets. Every so often, you congratulate yourself on completing a dissertation in this area, as this specialty provides you with a renewable means of presenting papers at conferences and pursuing promotions at your institution. “Fire!” you shout at your students. On cue, each of your students takes a turn shouting “Fire!” at the blackboard, where you’ve sketched out replica lip, muzzle, neck, and all the rest. As a special treat, you surprise your classes by playing the R.E.M. song, “The One I Love”, in which the singer croons, “Fire”, every so often. A very postmodern debate ensues about the intent of such a lyric, some students arguing that Michael Stipe must’ve been kindling a fuse a couple paces behind the chamber, so to speak, of a modern artillery piece, and yet other students contend that the song, “The One I Love”, belongs in another can(n)on altogether, the meaning of which troubles you, haunts your sensibilities. Perhaps you repair to the comfortable trappings of your office with a takeaway mug of decaf, noodling around in a canonical way: filing cabinet, bookshelf, computer, window, armchair. You relish the thought that, next semester, you will be on sabbatical, rising when you wish and working when you wish, if working means to grind coffee and peruse the Sunday funnies. In your absence, you realize, your students may be taught a thoroughly different cannon, but of course you, too, could consider teaching another cannon—or rather no canon, at all.
this post is part of a double issue. also see: TOPICAL PARADISE.