[NOTE: “Cyrano of the English Department” originally appeared in Larry McCaffery, Thomas Hartl, and Doug Rice, eds., Federman: A to X*X*X*X—A Recyclopedic Narrative. San Diego, San Diego State University Press, 1998. For readers unfamiliar with Federman’s work, this current text is a kind of homage or playgiarized version of Raymond Federman’s “Cyrano of the Regiment” chapter in his novel, Take It or Leave It (1976). Federman’s chapter is itself a kind of homage or playgiarized version of Edward Rostard’s 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac; although Rosnard’s play borrows its title and a number of incidents from an historical figure, Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655), the plotline from his play involving Roxanne and Christian is entirely fictional.]

Larry McCaffery

Cyrano of the English Department
(for Raymond Federman)

So, you guys want to know how I survived, personally, intellectually, creatively, and (most important of all), SEXUALLY during the 80s--those years of AIDs, Reagan, Jesse Helms, sexual harassment, of the Meese Commission and PC fascism and all those other things that were trying to SUCK the juice out of you, DRY up the life and passion and so on. My response is usually to shrug and say modestly something like, Hell, survival wasn’t easy for anyone but maybe especially if you were a professor in an English Department that was part of a university whose name I won’t reveal but which was run by and for lawyers, cops, accountants, and anybody else who was associated, indirectly or indirectly, with the military industrial complex.

So what was my secret of survival? I took advantage of my background, my education, and my personal interests, that’s how: I wrote porn fantasies for all the guys in my department to liven up their boring sex lives!

Yes, that’s right, I invented erotic scenes (I called them “scenarios") for all the sexually repressed dweebs in my department, mostly dorky types with tweed sports coasts and pipes who didn’t even know how to IMAGINE HOW TO MASTURBATE (I’M NOT KIDDING) much less actually get inside the pants of anyone, not their department secretaries or colleagues, not their horny coed students, typically not even their long-suffering WIVES because they spent all their time READING! Yes, all they ever did was sit around hunkered down at their desks or on their couches staring at useless and boring books and literary journals, I mean all they did, all they ever HAD DONE, all they COULD IMAGINE DOING, was sitting on their ugly, rapidly expanding asses reading, yes, reading
left     to                               right
turn the page, always in a straight line, reading and re-reading, filling their thick skulls with useless words, ideas, phrases, incomprehensible theories, verbal vomit so that they could shit the stuff out of their brains into their own lectures and essays.  And when they weren’t reading (or re-reading), they weren't out on the make, no, not these guys,  when these guys took a vacation from reading what they wanted to do for some real excitement, a change of pace, was to slip into the department late at night and start XEROXING what they HAD BEEN reading, or might be reading, or wanted to read, or WRITING ABOUT what they had been reading, or doing committee work or gathering enormous amounts of bibliographical information from data bases accessible to them on their university-supplied Internet systems, yes, unbelievably boring and irrelevant information about titles and subtitles authors and co-authors and editors and editions and pub dates and a lot of other crap they’d gather together and arrange on their computer files in alphabetical order to satisfy their anal retentiveness and so they could cite everything they’d stolen with perfect accurateness, so they could write the stupid useless turgid boring politically correct essays that would get them promoted, articles that deconstructed patriarchy or provided textual analysis of the meaning of Madonna’s pussy in her latest video, or that droned on about the misuse of the phallus, or trying to figure out how to run the SPELLCHECK on their new word processors, or responding to the e-mailed questions they’ve received from all those OTHER boring academic drones, or grading student papers and gossiping about their colleagues that they couldn’t get it up anymore—and who couldn’t figure out how to change this situation on their own. That’s where I came in.
Meanwhile, me, I began inventing porn scenes (for a fee, mind you) for my colleagues, all of them (all the males, anyway), assistant professors, black professors, feminists, deconstructionists, associate professors, specialists in Medieval romances and metaphysical poetry, FULL professors, part timers, TA's, yes, absolutely filthy scenarios that these guys could take home and act out with their little broads, their boring wives, or their girlfriends, or their students on the weekends.

Fifty bucks a scenario that was my price (TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT) and no one really bitched about it. Therefore WOW would I bang that sexy stuff away on my word processor (I had a used Kaypro in those days)! Fabulous erotic dreams, full of all these bizarre politically incorrect perverted episodes that were sure to be a turn on to people whose idea of a wild time was to sit around imagining the look of the gals in the front row when they read the dirty passages from Donne or Chaucer. Scenarios that allowed these jerks to finally get their repressions and prejudices and secret desires out in the open, sexual episodes I cunningly built out of precisely the topics and character types and symbols and plot models they were so obsessed with but hadn’t ever found a means of relating to their own lives--stories about racism, sexism, sexual harassment, abuse of authority, domination, unequal power relationships, the power of the phallus, topics these experts on narratology and semiotics and codes spent so much time writing and dissecting and analyzing and talking about at conferences and on the phone and in the classrooms and in the hallways that they never had any time to try explore first hand.

That's why they came to me, so I could supply them with something they could try out for themselves,  totally wild, outtacontrol stories based (as it should be) on minimal details furnished by the crumbs I picked up out of their course syllabi and files they'd dumped into the trash and boring essays about narratology and semiotics and post-feminism, episodes involving the frenzy of the visible, unequal power relationships, S&M, anal sex, with whip cream, leather, blindfolds, younameit. Wild, absolutely politically incorrect situations of surrealistic denseness whole filaria of suggestiveness was certainly enough to seduce even the most jaded kind of minds. Positions and contortions that would require for correct execution and proper results the acrobatic talents of the entire population of a zoo or tiergarden. Ah, what ORGIES! I invented on the spot! What POLITICAL and GENDER and RACIAL INCORRECTNESS! I created in those moments of word-processed-passion sitting in my office as I let my fingers do the walking. I wrote approximately twelve scenarios per week (2 to 3 pagers each, double spaced), with a few extra ones over the semester break and summer vacation. Sometimes on late on Friday afternoons before giving them hard copy I would read their scenarios aloud to take home to all the jerks in the Department Office after the secretaries had gone home.

Ah, did I have fun writing those fantasies on that beat-up old Kaypro of mine, full speed, and without the least apprehension, without thinking much about what I wrote, I simply accumulated words
I simply piled up the words as fast as
                                                                                      I could
                                                                                     up and down
           `                                                                                  &

                                                           erotic narrative archetypes
                                               (S&M, dominance, being dominated)
                                               (cross-dressing, gay, transsexuals)
                                                           erotic character stereotypes
                                               (blondes, and brunettes and redheads)

           plot elements and motifs invented specifically with their nerdy English professor neuroses and obsessions and repressions and in mind: radical feminism, lesbian studies, deconstruction, slippage, jouissance, sexual harassment, patriarchy, phallocentricism, anti-Oedipus, queer theory, post-colonialism,

                                                                       I played with words and metaphors
                                                                       with double meanings &
                                                                                  triple meanings &
without any respect (I must confess) for narrative logic coherency order character development epiphanic conclusions point of view symbolic design voice meaning
                                               it was just a matter of filling up space

(approximately twenty-five bucks a page I kept
                                                                                               telling myself
                                                                                               as I would finish
Ah what spirit of creativity I was engaged
in                                                                   in those days
                                                           what inspirations
                                                                       banging every
night on my old beat-up Kaypro
sometimes giving one guy the scenario I was supposed to have given to
another one
sometimes giving a scenario that was supposed to go to the young queer theory dude
to the old fart Victorian or the armchair Marxist guy with the posters of Madonna on his office wall
but who cared
           who gave a shit
                       it kept going (full blast) and they loved me for it     both
                                                                                   the jerks in my department
           and all the little cunts in their suburban gated community homes

Scenario Created (let us say) on July 4, 1987
Decunstructing Mother Jones

The date is the late 70s, the best of times (for lesbian feminists academics such as yourself, Dr. Eva Jones, Chair of the influential Women's Studies Dept. at Berkeley) and the worst of times (for women with "healthy" hetero instincts like me, Jennie McGrath, red-headed, a brilliant literature graduate students at Berkeley who should have been nearing completion of my degree had it not been for the "C" you gave me on the basis of my extraordinary recuperation of Cather, Stein, Adrienne Rich as several other so-called "gay" writers whom I demonstrated had written literary works which were not at all, as you claimed, disguised versions of lesbianism, etc., etc., but actually disguised disguises which cleverly masked strong, normal urges that all healthy women have about sex with MEN, which in fact ultimately celebrated, in their own fashion, the perverse thrills of being dominated and penetrated) (yes I know how unpolitically correct such sentiments are,today, but I use them proudly, knowingly, defiantly, certain as I am of my "position" ((as it were)) whose power extends directly from that remarkable instrument that God has chosen to place in such a very strategic place on males).

In short, during our graduate seminar (English 725) in Contemporary Feminist Fiction and Theory, it quickly became obvious that you--you with your tweed suits and blonde hair always so neatly placed up in either a bun or one of those more girlish twirls to the side and those huge tits that all the disgusting pimply faced grad student males in the class kept salivating over, while the reaction of the women, all naturally lesbo feminists except me, who came into your class idealistically, hoping to learn more about feminism, which I was naive enough to think was written by and about women rather than just radical separationist lesbian Marxists who hated men and therefore somehow instinctually recognized they should hate me and made me the pariah of the class)--anyway the reaction of the bull dikes around me, their heavy breathing and furtive movements under their skirts or jeans, was both personally disgusting to me and horrifying.

I mean that stuff is unnatural!! And, Prof. Jones, don't think I didn't know your game, the way you liked the effects you got from your students by wearing those tight tweed suit tops that hardly were enough to rein in what all human decency should have demanded that they keep hidden--or how you’d get off leaning over whenever you're lecturing and you've got something on that can lean conveniently open, exposing just enough of the tops of those creamy luscious breasts to get anybody just a little hot. And yes, I'll admit it, maybe it was just being in the same classroom with those horrid lesbians--or maybe it was being more or less forced to witness these so-called "students" involve themselves in lurid sexual fantasies during our study periods together; and of course a couple of times it was impossible for me to just witness, peer pressure forced me into engaging in acts that . . . well, I won't repeat those now).
The main point here, though, is the way you systematically set out to humiliate me and ruin my confidence in my hetereo readings--all this just in some stupid power trip fantasy of forcing me to yield to the strength and vigor of your . . . will. The way you ridiculed my first paper ("Stein's 'Tender Buttons': Towards a Strap-On Approach to Lesbian" Poetics") and even attempted (unsuccessfully) to seduce me in your office. When I resisted, you had it in for me the rest of the semester.

(This example is chosen at random from among a stock of more than four or five hundred.)
Scenario File Created (let us say) 9 December 1988
 (Re)Contextualizing the Shattered Venus

You are Cynthia Harrison, Chairperson of the Woman's Studies Department at Vassar's University and a noted, if controversial scholar whose recent critical studies--i.e., Reconstructing the Shattered Venus: Reclaimed the Female Body from the Effects of Patriarchy and Out of the Closet: A Semiolgoical Study of Lesbian S&M Styles--have presented passionate feminist arguments about the awfulness of all men and the beauty, majesty and nurturing features of women. You're also what some redneck men outside the hallowed walls of your Ivory Tower might describe as a "tasty dish"--a darkhaired bombshell and "blockbuster" with plenty of curves and bulges that seemed very edible indeed. Now in the absolute prime of your sexuality, you've long since shed the tweed jackets and hair-in-a-bun styles in favor of a provocative new-woman's-studies-prof look-of- the-90s" mode--black leather jackets and boots, lip piercing, etc..

Also shit-canned are the prim manners you had when you arrived at Vassar, married to a dull computer programmer who agreed to move to the East Coast to be with you, but who obviously resented you for taking him away from his nerdy buddies. Long before you won early tenure, your hubby was sulking, drinking, and giving over to occasional rages directed at you. You parried these stupid, drunken histrionics on his part--you knew how to handle yourself in a fight--but when hubby started coming on to your students you decided to toss the jerk out on his ass. Your divorce was granted after you came home one day early to begin work preparing your PDS file for your upcoming promotion to full professor. Your were so engrossed in thoughts of how to best showcase the half-dozen new essays you'd written that at first you didn't notice the moans coming from your back bedroom. When you opened the door, there was Mr. Computer Jerk, pants down around his ankles, his admittedly impressive member thrust deep up into the wet warm mouth of Sarah Johnson--your favorite student in the seminar in Stein you were currently teaching, a woman you had been carefully nurturing for a career in the burgeoning field of Lesbian Studies which you were helping to legitimize at Vassar.

This moment--and the one just afterwards when you witnessed hubby trying to apologize while in the midst of an uncontrollable orgasm in the mouth of the apparently unaware Ms. Johnson--was, of course, indelibly printed in your brain. Once rid of Jerk-Off, you began a new life dedicated to discovering the True Feminine side of yourself that patriarchy had never permitted you to uncover.

Bottom line: you started cruising bars by night, gathering materials for your books, and carrying on with the cutest women students in your grad courses ("Thank God for tenure!" you kept thinking).

I am Jay Blankness-- a sensitive, rather overbearing male graduate student who demanded to be admitted to your most recent seminar which was examining recent tendencies in lesbian porn. Forced to endure your condescending, irrational version of Marxist feminist approach in the seminar, I have further been subjected to repeated harassment by the other students in the class, of whom obviously get wet just waiting for you to show up each week to "whip them into shape" as you jokingly once put it.

Eventually expelled from your class, I began a quick spiral downwards that landed me out on the street, nearly all of my precious books sold to make ends me. Tonight was the final straw. It began with me having to sell my prized possessions--including an autographed copy of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead ("For Jay, a REAL MAN--never let any twat tell you you're not a great guy, Warmest regards, Norm"). Several drinks later, I impulsively went outside the cheap juke joint and began searching for the answers to my pain. I’m not sure if the crystal meth I purchased helped supply any answers directly, but it definitely helped propel me out into the next phase of my search.

This phase begins, appropriately enough, in your bedroom, where I’ve brought you back to help start settling accounts. More specifically my plan is to do a little reclamation job on the shattered Venus you so obviously identified with--a reCUNTstruction designed to explore possible practical applications of some of the abstract notions about the power of the phallus, collaboration, reader “responses,” and border crossings. . . .


So there you have it. Other examples of such scenarios are available (at reduced rates) either from the publisher or directly from the author of this tale. Discretion guaranteed. Money back if not completely . . . satisfied.


Spineless Books.

spineless books            spybeam books