1) Law prof, eh? Describe the moment when you knew with metaphysical certainty that that was what you wanted to do with your life.
I knew somewhere in the middle of my first year, when I was going through the On Campus Interview Program (OCIP)--and actually got some interviews and call-backs. Sometimes the interviews are stacked and scheduled so that you have to miss class. I remember having to miss contracts class, which was taught by a very unpleasant prof--but I really thought it was an interesting subject and kind of fun. At some point, when I was lying through my teeth and heard myself say "your firm's construction law practice is a specialization that interests me"--well, I thought I should go back to class. It's an odd realization to have, that you'd rather be in a class with 75 other people (70 of whom you dislike or are indifferent to) listening to an unpleasant prof who uses a tortuous, mocking form of the Socratic method than at some bourgie restaurant eating cashew-encrusted tilapia. Why feign interest when you could actually be really interested? I realized I liked the intellectual rewards of the study of law, a confession that will endear me to some and antagonize me to others.
I like reading, writing and teaching, and they're what I know how to do--and I hope I'm learning to do them well, or at least better. It seems to fit and work out, and I'm happy with my choice.
2) On tonight's Ultimate Fighting cage-fight card: T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound. Who wins, and why?
Ooof. Tough one. They're all kind of pansies in their own way. Stevens was a corporate tool for much of his life, so maybe he has some alpha male tendencies his other literary compatriots don't. I like Stevens' work and his instrumentalist, human functionalist view of poetry--kind of action-packed.
Eliot and Pound might alack and alas themselves out of the fight--Pound would never finish; Eliot might waffle a bit (Prufrock), wonder what the point is in this apocalyptic modern age (Wasteland) before trying to offer some final vision of redemption (Four Quartets).
But Yeats kind of beats them all in terms of embodying an entire age, from the 19th the 20th--and The Second Coming is such a badass poem. Even though Eliot is my favorite poet, I have to give it to Yeats just for writing till the every end, and for writing the ultimate poem about the end--and the beginning that comes after the end.
3) Describe a piece of art or a photograph you have displayed in your abode. What appeals to you about it?
I have The Last Waltz on Bastille Day, 1945 by Doisneau on my bedroom wall. I like the movement in the photo--the couple seem oblivious to their surroundings, which are very stark. It's as if time stopped and there is nothing in the world to interrupt their dancing. It is night, nothing is open, and there are no other people around--this street is empty and the picture could be one of apocalyptic void--except there are people dancing! It is as if this is the last waltz in history, and Adam and Eve have returned at the second coming (see above) to dance. I like the fact that it's on Bastille Day. It seems an appropriate, final way to celebrate the storming of the Bastille; a violent incident that precedes a new era.
4) Assuming you've heard one worth (re)telling, tell your favorite lawyer or law school joke. Extra credit if you comment on why you think it appeals to you.
I just got this via email from Hipster Law Prof, who came up with this himself! I don't have any favorite jokes. I don't think they're very funny. But this one is in a very lawyerish way:
A rich man is worried that someone will break into his house and steal his possessions. He asks an economist, a physicist and a lawyer for advice. The economist says, economic thinking can help. Put your most valuable things in the bank. Someone can still break in and rob you, but economically it wouldn't make much sense. The physicist says, put locks on the doors and bars on the windows. Someone could still break in and rob you, but it would be physically very difficult. The lawyer laughs. Amateurs, he says. The law is more powerful. Just leave your door open with a sign saying 'take what you want.' now no one can break in and rob you-it's legally impossible.
Ha. Ha. Ha! For extra credit, I will say that what appeals to me about this joke is that it frames the disciplines as being against each other--and that's a very lawyerly thing to do, to claim our own superiority above other disciplines. I think it goes back to our disciplinary inferiority complex, which very few of us will admit to having. There is no such thing as a "law major," so everyone comes into law school having studied something else and feels probably a twinge of guilt about not doing that anymore. What better way than to make fun of the doctor you failed to be! I remember that on the first day of law school, my civil procedure professor said that across the campus, what medical students are hearing themselves is "right across the campus there are a thousand students learning how to sue you"--and that's where he came in.
I also like this joke because it's so...legalistic--so technical, and the punchline about "legally impossible"--such a lawyer way of thinking! Funny if you get it. Physical impossibility (or in this case, possibility), the confines of time and space--who cares! if it's legally possible, it can't happen! Love that.
5) Helen Vendler, the famous academic critic of poetry from Harvard, once said that though her favorite poet was Keats, if she were a poet Stevens was the poet whose work she would most want to be able to write. How about you? What would your choices be?
Another hard one. My favorite poet is T.S. Eliot, because of his power to move me with his words in every direction--he is one of the few writers that I can say "changed my life." I didn't think of poetry or the English language the same way after reading Eliot. He frustrates me sometimes, and I've worked harder to read him than any other poet (reading the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita as background, self-translating, reading with notes)--but I've also gotten more from him than any other poet.
I read The Wasteland
every year, and get something new each time--mainly because each time I've picked up some new reference or language translation. But I read The Four Quartets
every year too, and mark my life's progress by how I respond to the poem.
If I could write long epic poetry for the modern age, I'd write like Eliot in The Four Quartets. But I wish I could just write like Robert Creeley, who moves me and fills me with feeling and beauty. If love poetry, then--well, no one poet owns love poetry for me--I wish I could mix Shakespeare with Donne and some e.e. cummings for irreverence, since love should be playful. I have an even longer list for poets I wish I could write who fill me with a beautiful sadness. That's for another day.