Before you let that patient in, please tell us, Doc Lacan,
The latest dope from Lévi-Strauss, Derrida and de Man.
What symptomatic concepts may we now disseminate?
What phallic simulacra may we “cluster” or sublate?
Can dialectic referent be structured after Hegel?
Will nominal concretions truly supersede the bagel?
And does the signifier really mean the signified?
O merde, Lacan, your patient just committed suicide!

Diacritics, “Condition: Neocritical But Not Serious” by Vera Lee, Vol. III, No. 2, Summer 1973, p. 60

I stumbled upon this humorous take on theoretical trends while doing some research in François Cusset’s book French Theory (Paris: La découverte, 2003, p. 73; French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States, trans. Jeff Fort, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008, p. 63). Its playful commentary is still very much relevant today. It reminded me of a commentary by the French writer Gabriel Matzneff about Lord Byron:

“Comme tous les bons auteurs, il sait qu’il ne faut jamais se prendre au sérieux (il faut prendre son art au sérieux, ce qui n’est pas la même chose), et que c’est avec une pointe d’ironie qu’il convient de parler des choses qui nous tiennent le plus au cœur.” (La diététique de Lord Byron, Paris: Gallimard, 1984, p. 26).

Vera G. Lee is an author and a former Professor Emerita (Romance Languages) at Boston College (read her profile). I reached her by email and asked if she could share some memories about the way she came to write and to publish this little poem (she calls it a “doggerel”). She very generously shared the following information:

How did I come to write it? In publishing, I was aiming for clarity in an era that thumbed its nose at clarity. The In scholars appeared to impress readers by serving up rather simple concepts dressed in the terminology of “la Nouvelle Critique” (with writers like Barthes and Starobinski). Scholars such as Roger Shattuck and Henri Peyre protested at this esoteric trend in American literary criticism. Not given to protest myself, but a bit tired of all the jargon, I preferred humor as a harmless attempt to prick the bubble. I was deeply surprised to find that a serious journal such as Diacritics had the grace to publish the poem.

Below is a reproduction of the poem as it appears in Diacritics, in the summer of 1973.

“Condition: Neocritical But Not Serious” by Vera Lee, 1973


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