Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Forum

In a word, I got Facebooked. A group of students put out an online bolo on me, and it’s taken me some time to process the charge, especially in light of what I was preparing to post. If you recall, I had promised to put the Daphne Merkin-Laura Kipnis disagreement to bed with a discussion of Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh, and, more specifically, with some reflections on the dynamics of the university lecture.

You see (or alas?), I just censored myself. Full disclosure: I was initially going to write on the erotics of lecturing. No, not on how I present myself sexually in the classroom: heaven – which is to say, my dignity and my tenure file – forbid.

Rather, in my view, the Merkin-Kipnis dispute turned on the relationship between gender decora and standards of writing. Merkin, known (to her chagrin) for a piece on spanking that appeared in The New Yorker, chastened Kipnis for writing in the kind of chatty girl-talk that Merkin deemed unfit for a serious argument. Kipnis, known (to her delight?) for her unconventional views on sexual fidelity, claimed that adopting girly-mag prose enabled her both to countenance and counteract its rhetorical frailty.

Am I sounding academic yet? Yes, academic prose, too, has its own standards and decora, often functioning to veil, and thereby diminish, heady ideas, even as it appears to trump them up. It’s hard to get it right (whatever the idiom).

For my part, I had planned to use the Marlowe and Raleigh poems – poems I lectured on this term – not only to reexamine each writer’s claims, but also to share how these matters of discourse figure in my own classroom. I had not planned, of course, for my own students to coopt – wittily, though provocatively – the very “love poems” we had studied in class in order to figure me, of all people, as an object of desire. Again, full disclosure here: the students’ site was titled “Gwynn Dujardin is a FOXXX!!!” (groan); and each member of the group, roughly a dozen, of mixed gender, was tagged by a quote from a sixteenth-century poem, slyly rewritten to address me.

As I noted in my online response to the site – professionally and pedagogically, I felt it warranted a response – the syllabus coverage was pretty impressive. Skelton, Wyatt, More, Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Wroth – nearly all the authors we had read were represented. What’s more, the lines they excerpted were key ones, phrases on which our own readings turned. Finally, and most important, the way the students adapted those lines to the occasion at hand testified, at some level, to their understanding of a critical theme of the course: that sixteenth-century authors reform the language of their immediate and classical predecessors in the service of a revised understanding or goal.

As we had discussed, “love is not love” in Elizabethan “love poetry,” but a vehicle for exploring the power(s) of writing. When Philip Sidney opens his seminal sonnet sequence by writing, “Loving in truth, and feign in verse my love to show,” the word "feign" is central both to the line and the 107 sonnets that follow. That is, the speaker may claim to love “in truth,” and desire “to show” that love “in verse,” but feign reads doubly, suggesting both the poet’s eagerness to show, or disclose, his love in verse, as well as his recognition that verse, or writing itself, is a form of “feigning,” a kind of fiction or untruth.

Addressing poems to a cruel mistress who refuses to requite the speaker’s love (N.B. Shakespeare is a notable exception here), Elizabethan poets assume the pose of unrequited lover in order to reflect on the powers of language – that is, on the possibility to “move” readers, in desired ways, through writing. Indeed: were the poets’ love to be consummated, there would be nothing more to write. With this in mind -- and this is addressed to the academics in my audience -- who needs Lacan to teach us about desire in language? (For my non-academic readers, see Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society, on the idea that the purpose of poetry is to “woo women”).

Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is “about” – pronounced a-boot up here, of course -- desire in language. On first reading, the poem could not appear more benign: in the poem, a shepherd attempts to entice “his love” by entreating her, tempus fugit-carpe diem style, to join him in the serene “pleasures” of pastoral life. Yet those “pleasures” are rendered serene through language, indeed through mellifluous verse. In this respect, the phrase “a thousand fragrant poesies” is central here, in that posies are not only flowers, part of the pastoral landscape, but also a pun for poesy, or English poetry. Concluding “and if these pleasures may thee move,/come live with me and be my love,” the poet is not merely “feeding her lines” with promises of earthly pleasures, but asking “if these pleasures,” or lines of poetry, are compelling enough to “move” her, or his readers, to "come."

When I planned to write on these poems here last week, I was going to share a moment from class when I “lowered myself” -- as Daphne Merkin would have it -- responding to a student’s skepticism that a “belt of straw” would appeal to the poet’s “love.” Off the cuff, I responded something like: “No, in Pastoral-land, straw belts are serious bling.” I was almost embarrassed by the pronounced laugh the line got (after all, I aspire to “teach and delight,” not audition for Second City). But Merkin’s irritation at Kipnis’s colloquialisms got me wondering whether I am too glib in class – that is, whether I pander to my own audience by using terms unbefitting a thirty-nine-year-old (i.e., “ye olde”) professor of English Renaissance literature.

Imagine my pause, then, when I subsequently viewed “my” page, in which one of my student’s tag-lines reads “[student’s name] wants to live with Gwynn and be her love” -- and the rest, even more clever, follow in kind. Oh, I was moved all right. To don the nearest burlap sack.

In effect, I went from weighing the importance of register and diction, a key matter of dispute between Merkin and Kipnis, to experiencing, quite acutely, the stakes for women whose professions trade (and I am quoting myself here) on techniques in withholding and revelation, concealment and display. For the erotics of lecturing does not refer to any sexual pose I strike in the classroom (again, heaven forbid), but to the fact that lecturing, like writing, involves deciding what information to put forward or hold back, when to suppress, when to disclose -- so that students may choose to “come live with me” in being moved, or persuaded, by my talk. As a writer selects his or her words carefully and attempts to pace the flow of information, like verse, so, too, do I measure carefully how I conceive and impart my material so as to bring my students to a desired result.

Upon witnessing my own "foxxxy" online exposure, I immediately worried that I had somehow revealed too much.

I eventually got over my spanking discomfiture, however, when I saw how deftly the students had reworked the poems, and *understood that I was not the object of their desire but rather a vehicle for engaging with the dis-course of the course (that is, just as "love is not love," the "foxxx is not a fox"). I am passionate about the course material, and devoted to teaching it: no doubt. If they're feeding intellectually off that affect, I can't complain. And I realized, too, that my students were merely carrying out online the kind of discussion my peer group would have conducted (and did!) over a late-night twelve-pack in the dorms: only the forum differs.

But in deciding to deem me “DUna,” the student’s lesson, or what I should learn from their disclosure, became clear. That is, “DUna” puns on the first syllable of my last name (DUjardin) and Una, the character Edmund Spenser assigns to direct the Red Crosse Knight through Book I of The Faerie Queene. Representing England (and ultimately deemed St. George, as in “and the dragon”), the Red Crosse Knight must heed the guidance of Una, the “one true faith” (in sixteenth-century England, aka Protestantism), to complete his journey towards self-realization. Una has an alter, though, in DUessa, a Circe figure who waylays the epic hero from his quest via pleasures unmistakably associated with the powers of poetry. Una and Duessa – one v. two; virgin v. whore; faith v. heresy; truth v. feigning ; reality v. poetry; Merkin v. Kipnis – this ancient dualism underwrites the Merkin-Kipnis dispute and reveals the stakes for scribbling women of any political or historical stripe.

Siding ultimately with Kipnis – I think (all knowledge is provisional) – I think “bling” worked, in that it worked to “move” my students to a desired, favorable, and, most important, mutual end, in understanding how pastoral symbols, while benign on the literal level, veil a poet’s will to power, indeed his will to express the power of poetry. Raleigh’s “reply” – in which Raleigh stoops to conquer by ventriloquizing the “nymph,” just as Merkin channels chatty girl-talk – both reveals and contests that power, by pointing out that pastoral pleasures are fleeting in the “real world,” and that, in feeding her those lines, the poet presumes to silence her voice, Philomel-like, in ways that preclude any meeting, or mutuality, between them. (See Shakespeare’s Sonnets to the Dark Lady for an attempt to render a meeting of “wills”; and for an object study in the vagaries of female authorship, read Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. Merkin and Kipnis: take note.)

Eventually thinking better of the burlap sack, I now embrace my DUna persona: resolved to guide my students steadily through the journey of the course, but keenly aware of the dualism inherent to that, or any, identity -- indeed how truth in language is forever a matter of feigning.

Plus it’s a great pun. Consider me deemed!

Post-MLA P.S. I tried to introduce myself to Laura Kipnis at the MLA; alas, she wasn't having any of it. . .!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Making Light of One's Own Abundant Ineptitude

We all find ourselves in situations we can't ever seem to get right -- and the harder we try, the worse it gets. Nettled by that feeling earlier today, I remembered Chris Farley's "interview" of Paul McCartney -- in some ways, the best I've seen of either of them (Macca does well to remain silent and subdued. . .). Let the hair-pulling commence:

Video credit: Buzz Humor

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Kipnis v. Merkin": A (Not-So-Brief) Debriefing

I've mulled it over in chambers, and here's how I make sense of the knicker-twisting debate.

1. "Knock" Slate's Book Club, not feminists (I am quoting here from Slate's weekend subhed, "Laura Kipnis v. Daphne Merkin: A Knockdown Feminist Brawl").

As I noted in my initial post, the Slate Book Club is rarely (ever?) a take-down. The premise is promising: instead of merely posting a review based on one critic's provisional response to a book, the exchange allows the critic to air his or her comments directly to the author, and invites the author to respond and comment in turn. Ordinarily two ships that pass in the media night, the critic and author drop anchor for a spell and let the ideas flow.

A lively discussion, of *ideas? How ingenious!

Well, it hasn't always worked out that way. As I implied in my first post on this particular Book Club, I've harbored doubts about Slate's commitment to the cause, as it seemed as though critics were suaded to flatter authors (to get the latter to the table?) in ways that made for a shallow swim. Add that to the fact that the Book Club frequently appeared when a book was either about to, or had just, come out, and the column may as well have been Larry King (especially in its over-weening obsequy). Overall, the genre itself had -- as we say in my business -- reified, or taken an all-too-familiar and predictable form.

As it looked as though Merkin and Kipnis were out to break the mold -- and Kipnis' The Female Thing has been out since October 1 -- I was initially enthused by their first entries and looked forward to a substantive debate. Playing the part of the "critic," Merkin challenged Kipnis on her colloquial diction, both in Kipnis's recent book and 2003 career-maker, Against Love. Kipnis (in the role of the "author") parried, claiming the time-honored strategy of imitating a given discourse in order to subvert and redefine its terms.

So far, so good, at least from where I was sitting, in that the Book Club was "selling" neither The Female Thing nor itself, but instead raising questions of method and idiom central to any meaningful cultural polemic.

But then insult led to injury, if not a pound of female flesh.

First, Merkin accused Kipnis of side-stepping questions in order to burnish her image as feminist iconoclast. (Fair play. Continue.) From this daring opening, however, Merkin went on to protest (you *could say too much) (a) what Kipnis evidently thought was a compliment -- if not grounds for mutual gal-pallery -- in designating Merkin as "bratty" and (b) Kipnis's own (obsequious?) allusion to Merkin's decade-old New Yorker piece on spanking. In effect, what started as a jibe against Kipnis's own well-honed reputation became a forum on Merkin's own, as Merkin patently refused to grant Kipnis a chair on the same dais.

(N.B.: A panel presentation does feature here: Merkin accuses Kipnis of lying about having been in the audience for a talk in which Merkin participated: in effect, what Kipnis extends as a gesture of "this is your stage, I'm only sitting in the cheap seats," Merkin rebuffs as gratuitous and insincere.)

For my part, I kept thinking of Portia's line when she enters the Venetian courtroom (crossdressed as a law clerk) to settle the dispute between Antonio and Shylock. Portia's inquiry -- "which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?" -- functions to question the characters' own reified differences, and puts Christian society itself on trial, for having erected those differences in the first place. As for me, in this case, I was thinking: which is the critic here, and which the author?

Fraysters lunged ad feminem at Merkin and Kipnis, decrying their "estrogen-laced" comments as self-indulgent feminist (self-)parody; when, in fact, what was being parodied, inversely and by contrast, was the (self-)indulgence of the Book Club itself. That is, the genre assumes that a fairly well-known author will deign to countenance the solicitation (if not the solicitousness) of a (usually) lesser-known media critic (to generate book sales for the author, as well as downloads for Slate: i.e., a win-win).

Perhaps piqued from the outset that she was cast in the latter (i.e., lesser) role, Merkin emphatically wasn't on script. To the contrary, she used the occasion to decry Kipnis's own theatricality, citing Kipnis's colloquialism as a lack not only of gravitas but also, or by implication, of intellect. Meanwhile, Kipnis must have felt utterly blindsided, not only by Merkin's indisputable rancor, but also because, or *unlike Merkin, Kipnis already has in-house status at Slate. Like Antonio, who assumes a "fair" hearing in the Christian court, Kipnis wasn't prepared to have her own character put on trial.

So is it really that these two women were prickly ("bared their claws"); that feminists (of any stripe) are generally small-minded and intolerant; or even (more feasibly) that two generations of writers were shown to be divided by a common language (i.e., gravitas v. slang) -- or that the Book Club itself could not generically withstand deviations in form? Sort out the fact that it was two women writing on topics related to "feminism" or "women's issues" (or whatever label you want to give it), and what destabilized the entire exchange from the outset was its striking recasting of roles, i.e., its assigning to the more established -- though less au courant -- writer the part of fawning minion. You could fault Daphne Merkin for being ungenerous and self-interested, but, on the other hand, I think I might be a bit prickly, too.

2. A First-Wave refresher course: the personal is political.

Of course, we cannot wholly discount the fact that what gave the exchange its particular frisson was the fact that two women were trading barbs on the matter of erotic "confessionalism." To be sure, the fact that the dialogue got so personal is what made it come across, ultimately, as so petty. (And Fraysters' calls to "get the jello" -- and Slate's own sensationalist subhed [did Meaghan O'Rourke know about this?] hardly lent the column intellectual weight.) In this respect, I can hardly be the only dismayed feminist who felt as though I were witnessing a spectacular car crash (i.e., I can't look, I can't look; oh, but I have to. . .).

After all, I myself had speculated -- eagerly, no doubt -- that Merkin and Kipnis were in on it together, to call us all out on our own erotic provincialism, i.e., our own eagerness to see something "hot" in two women hitting the rhetorical mats. Upon seeing those hopes dashed, I held back on commenting any further, specifically to resist the (equally gendered) urge to "make nice" of this consummately unconsummated affair. No, if feminism (again, of any stripe) is to have any intellectual currency, it has to allow for -- nay, encourage -- vigorous debate, and even allow that debate to go absolutely *nowhere from time to time (high-minded premise of the Book Club notwithstanding). If grudges turn on sticking points, then sticking points themselves demand a ritual airing if we're ever going to get anywhere.

In this respect, the fact that the debate itself turned on the definition of terms, the meaning(s) of discourse -- or, more specifically, on the authority of confessionalism versus that of colloquialism -- shows us, for better or for worse, where we're at -- which is to say, deciding what kinds of stoops rhetorically conquer.

For the first wave feminists, the personal was political because what had passed as natural or common sense viz. labor -- i.e., "housework" versus "a paying job" -- needed to be rhetorically denaturalized (or shown as bunk) in order to make way for economic restructuring. That we are now arguing over terms may seem like progress (to some; and to others, reason to enjoy our paychecks and quit our bitching), but nonetheless testifies to ongoing -- and weighty -- imbalances when it comes to our writing.

For where Merkin and Kipnis appear to agree -- at some level -- is that powerful writing trades on techniques in withholding and revelation, concealment and display; and that female writers in particular are acutely aware of the stakes, and potential gains, of any given pose they strike.

[To keep up the Merchant analogy here: recall that Portia herself stoops before the shallow Bassanio, describing herself as an "unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractic'd," before she proceeds to pronounce sentences on Shylock, Antonio, and eventually her own husband. To what extent does her power in the courtroom stem from the gravitas of her own rhetoric ("the quality of mercy is not strained. . .") or from her *appearance as a court-appointed clerk? Tough to say.]

Arguing that the appearance of her spanking piece in The New Yorker in particular is what lent that writing both its thrill and its authority, Merkin maintains the importance of context to the meaning of any public disclosure. Yet by publishing on spanking in that particular venue, Merkin had nonetheless upheld its (pre-Tina Brown) writerly scruples, and conformed to an authorized, if not formal, register of language, even as she defied the zine's normative standards of content.

For her part, Kipnis sees in appropriating informal girl-talk a method to put a magnifying glass to its weaknesses, and (if I understand her rightly here; I have not read her books [they're in modern English!]) the possibility to imbue that talk with some credibility, if structured and accompanied by the kinds of ideas that ultimately make for a persuasive argument. A reader ("robt") just weighed in minutes ago here, to express doubts that Kipnis's freewheeling word-play will signify as *she hopes outside the semiotic recesses of academe -- which is to say, in the so-called school of life, where the word "girl" on the page still conjures. . . a girl.

Again, tough to say (especially for me, happily hiding out in those recesses), but I find it compelling that Kipnis gets the most "sympathy" in the Fray -- for having capably withstood Merkin's chaste lashing or shown her willingness to oblige her senior confessor?

Tough to say.

I have one more point to make, on the matter of erotics and language (cf. Marlowe and Raleigh, below), but I'll throw in my own towel here, for today. Like the Book Club itself, I suppose this is a serial . . .

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Renaissance Reconnaissance (aka homework)

I'm mentally formulating my response to the Merkin-Kipnis slatemate -- ha! what a typo! I meant to write "stalemate." Slate/stale/mate. Typo stays.

As I'm still gestating my ideas -- while I complete assorted holiday tasks with the progeny (fa la la la la) -- I give you what I plan to use as my lede: Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"; and Walter Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd."

You are probably familiar with Marlowe's poem:

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flower, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

But here is Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply," as well:

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold;
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complain of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy bed of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.

I know you're thinking: what do two sixteenth-century poems have to do with Daphne Merkin's pique at Laura Kipnis' having designated her as "bratty"?

On first read, Marlowe's pastoral ditty seems benign, even endearing (it's meant to). As Raleigh's "reply" shows, though, the poems are about language and persuasion, register and context: the issues at the core of the Merkin-Kipnis debate.

I'll explain shortly. After I cut some more snowflakes (out of my dissertation, of course).

Friday, December 08, 2006

Book club porn?

Gentle reader, I assure you I shall indeed return soon, after I complete my end-of-term duties. I've got a backlog -- a backblog? -- of topics to cover.

One of them concerns the recent steamy "Book Club" exchange over at Slate, between prickly erstwhile New Yorker contributor Daphne Merkin and "adultery is cool, therefore I am" Laura Kipnis. Check it out for yourselves and tell me, sincerely: is this to be believed?

Some context here. Here's how Slate's Book Club, an e-mail exchange between a critic and an author, usually goes:

Critic: Oooh, love the book. Talk more about this bit.

Author: That bit? There? Happy to oblige. You like?

Critic: Oh yes, I really enjoyed that. Have I mentioned I love the book?

Author: Not sure, but now that you mention it, I could use some stroking just. . . *there. . .

In other words: yawn. Often wincing. But no more intellectually titillating than the false exaggerations of dust-jacket ad copy.

With Merkin and Kipnis, however, we have fur being thrown.

The Fray at Slate is all in a lather -- ooh chick fight -- but I have to wonder whether the dialogue has been manufactured to stimulate such predictable responses . . . which suggests what about the "discourse" of post (whatever you want to call it) feminism?

Or rather: which is worse -- or better? -- that Merkin and Kipnis may have colluded on this "club" -- or that they didn't, and that this is the striking result?

More soon. Check it out.

6:43 EST: The exchange just concluded with a winsome shrug on Kipnis' behalf. Given the bruised feelings and egos in evidence on both sides, it would appear as though my hypothesis has not only not been borne out, but also reflected some wishful thinking on my part. That is, I wanted to believe that we were being played, and that what seemed at first like a touchy, if not prurient, tete-a-tete, might be redeemed by the revelation that they were so much smarter than we are (i.e., silly us). One look at the Fray -- sadly? (though I want to avoid emotionally charged language here) -- shows that neither combatant emerges seeming wise (to quote Hamlet, yet again).

The exchange matters to me, or to this blog, because their debate turned on uses of language. So, before I comment any further on the exchange, I do want to *think about it some more -- to rise above the Fray, as it were.

Once again: more soon. And next on the docket: Sir Philip Sidney on the current travails of Ian McEwan.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

To Do, or Not to Do, List

Now that the PhD is done, I have a lot to do:

1. A whole lot of absolutely nothing. Remember what it was like to have homework due on Monday, how you never could really relax? I've been in that mode since I was in my late twenties, and I'm looking through the cross-hairs at 40 right now. So if there's one thing I'm going to do, it's relax (if I can remember how. . .? I'll start by just breathing, I guess).

2. Catch a movie. In a movie theatre. Suggestions? I'm thinking Borat and that yummy new James Bond, for starters, but I know there are other ones I should catch, i.e., that haven't been featured on magazine covers I've seen at the grocery check-out line. The only "entertainment reading" I've allowed myself is Doonesbury (and I especially appreciated the recent series on Alex at MIT: "no nerd left behind," indeed).

3. Read a book. In modern English. Again, suggestions? The major outlets are coming out with their year-end lists, but those lists can tend to the random, despite claims of methods in the madness.

4. Work out. Yes, I enjoy that (it's not a task), but have had precious little time to. I'm eager to start running in the area around our home: there are hills! (I like running hills). T'weren't hills in flat Illinois.

5. Enjoy my kids. Sure, I always enjoy them, and love them dearly, but it hasn't been healthy, either for them or for me, to have a Mom with a monkey on her back. Bye-bye, monkey: hello, angels. As Hamlet says, I shall hereafter be more myself. Not that that helped him any, in the end, but, unlike Hamlet, I actually realized my quest for knowledge. Hamlet could never reliably ascertain whether Claudius killed his father, and ended up murdering his loved ones in the process. Rewrite!

6. Catch up -- and stay up -- with friends and family, most of whom must have felt like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, dispatched off to some barbaric island (known as England, in the play), and mystified as to the whereabouts -- and sanity -- of their one-time pal. In this respect, the monkey is a real friendship killer, in that it makes you not only think you have "more important" things to do (an utter fallacy), but also feel positively crummy about yourself -- and I'm *terrible about ringing people up when I feel crummy (i.e., I won't do it). Rather, it sounds trite, I know, but there is no way on earth I'd be even considering this list were it not for the enduring support of my friends and family. So, I'll be in touch soon, I promise -- and thank you.

7. I know there's more, much more -- it's a work in progress! -- but suffice to say here that the other item on my list is to maintain the blog.

I look forward to all of it.

More soon!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mellow Yellow

Yes, by now you've all heard the sad news that Greg Page, lead singer of The Wiggles, is leaving the band for health reasons. The yellow-turtlenecked one will be replaced by one Sam Moran, his understudy.

Of course, by now you're all wondering why this is getting so much press. Has the Brian Epstein of the band shrewdly seen to make as much of the transition as possible? Are Australian children truly expiring on the pavement, as when Paul married Linda that fateful day in 1969? Or are news agencies so in the pockets of parents with disposable incomes that they're willing to give this news space away?

Several comparisons spring to mind. First: Blue, meet Joe. Joe, meet Blue. (and Steve, we hardly knew ye.) The transition from "Steve" to "Joe" on Blue's Clues was smoother than Elmer's, in large part because the show *didn't make a big fuss over it. And I dunno about you, but we're still watching. Love the squares.

Next, thump-thump/rap-rap-rap-rap. That's blog for Bill Berry's tight drum riff on the "Eponymous" version of REM's "Radio Free Europe." Like Greg, Bill Berry left his band for health reasons, after having suffered a brain aneurysm on tour.

Like the Wiggles, the band made a fairly big stink over it. You could say the band was already verstinken at that point. But a wee listen to REM's recent reissue of "the early stuff" speaks volumes to Berry's importance to the group, his tight traps off-setting Michael Stipe's ethereal mumblings. Hot.

Of course, the odd thing about Berry's retirement was not that a significant member of a major rock group elected to leave voluntarily, but that he left before he died. When I was young, Virginia, rock stars didn't retire. . . they choked on their vomit. . .

. . . and then got replaced by the lead singer of another band. What on earth was Brian May (a lovely bloke, as they say) thinking when Queen went on tour with Bad Company's Paul Rodgers at the mike?? You don't wait until the band itself has no currency to suddenly pluck an idle singer out of your Rolodex! Don't get me wrong: I like Queen, and I like Bad Company. I *even liked the Firm, Paul Rodger's collaboration with post-Zeppelin (i.e., post-Bonham) Jimmy Page. But Rodgers playing the part of Freddie Mercury (the rainbow Wiggle)? Nuh uh. I don't buy it.

No, if there's a model the Wiggles should follow here, it's AC/DC, who did it -- smooth as Elmer's -- after Bon Scott's death, indeed at the peak of their fame. Brian Johnson's spirited delivery (a similar timbre of voice, in fact) and the "dedication album" (Back in Black) made it work. Plus they had that schoolboy thing going with Angus Young.

Now. As for poor Sam Moran. Poor Sam Moran. (It's got a little lilt to it, dunnit? yummy yummy yummy yummy poor Sam Mor-a-a-an!). Let's hope the toddler set can see beyond their devotion to Greg and not throw their juice boxes at poor Sam Moran. Full disclosure here: I have seen the Wiggles in concert. Even more: I was tempted to hurl my own sippy cup on stage when I saw that "Anthony," my (er) personal favorite, was "being played by an understudy." Hey -- sometimes it takes a little imagination to cotton on to this kid stuff (translation: mmmmm, Anthony.) But the kids went with it. Didn't even wanna know about it. Where the hey is Dorothy the Dinosaur? Henry the Octopus? More important, where's Jeff? Relax, everyone. The kids will sort this all out like string cheese.

Feel better, Greg.

In the end

I looked like Sawyer on the last episode of Lost: on my knees, smelly and disheveled, and with a gun to my head.

But I *completely finished the dissertation. Remains to be seen whether they will in fact let me graduate.

P.S. If Sawyer goes, *I go.