FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Code of Frank Conroy

New York City

“Let’s go to the language.”

Perhaps that’s my most vivid aural memory of Frank Conroy. I took his writing class at Brandeis University in the Spring of 1985.

First there was the “story” all that narrative stuff, usually about dead grandparents, the most dramatic event in most middle-class white American College students’ lives, which he knew and could care less about. But then there was “the language.”

The language was what we were there for. The language was the soul of the writer, regardless of class or experience, or rather, in response to class and experience, to all that’s in the world and all the author imagines is beyond or before it.

Conroy was tall, and dressed as if style weren’t an issue — it wasn’t. Fink corduroy pants, multi-colored checkered jackets. But really style was the issue, for no one else I have met before or since, dressed like Frank Conroy. Cloths, music, language — all modes of expressing the inside to the outside. All saying that for better or worse, there was only one Frank Conroy, and here he was.

He was easy on us with our “stories” — after all, what would one say? If you want stories, go to the movies. And that was perhaps the greatest lesson Frank Conroy had to teach writers, readers, musicians, anyone. If you want stories, go to the movies or watch TV. Books, or I should say, “the written word,” whatever form it takes (i.e. the Web) contain the one thing movies never will: language.

“It’s just a code,” Conroy would say. “A code. Symbols on paper. But what does it mean?”

Everything. Poetry, prose; fiction, philosophy, history, politics. All that we are. So when Conroy, honing in on a particular student, the one whose “turn” it was to present a story or prose work, would say, “let’s go to the language,” what he was saying was “let’s see who this person really is, and whether he/she has discovered there right set of symbols, the right code, to convey it to others.

Frank Conroy was a talker, that is, he loved to talk, to communicate. Hence, his music, his prose, his position in American Letters not so much as a creator — he wrote five books, among them the classic, Stop-Time — but a communicator. Teaching the young and inexperienced, and bringing together the greats among his peers. Conroy wasn’t selected to head America’s most prestigious writing program on a whim: he had a reputation of knowing how to be with people. He knew their language.

One sin Frank exhibited unselfconsciously among the “politically correct” was his compulsive smoking. He chain-smoked, getting in a few butts before class started, and as many as three during the break. Sometimes, lost in thought, he’d light up during class and have to stomp out the butt and chuck it out the window. It wasn’t fashionable to chain-smoke in 1985. “You’re gonna die way before your time,” people would chastise him in 1985. I suppose, in 2005, at age sixty-nine, he did die “way before his time.” But such things, for a man like Frank Conroy, could not be helped, for there were always countless ways in which he might die, but only one way he could possibly live, by “going to the language” of his essential self.

So much confusion, weirdness, madness in America today. Some people thing we need more of what got is here: false, language, corporate language, language by committee. Maybe we should say, as Conroy, “let’s go to the Language.” That is, let’s get to essential truths of our individual selves, and assert the fact of our individual unique nesses to the world, that fact that we all count. What else is language for?

Thank you, Frank Conroy, for teaching me this valuable lesson early on.

Books by Frank Conroy

Stop-Time

Midair: Stories

Body and Soul

Dogs Bark, Then the Caravan Rolls On: Observations Now and Then

Time and Tide: a Walk Through Nantuckett

ADAM ENGEL can be reached at: bartleby.samsa@verizon.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Adam Engel is editor of bluddlefilth.org. Submit your soul to bluddlefilth@yahoo.com. Human units, both foreign and domestic, are encouraged to send text, video, graphic, and audio art(ifacts), so long as they’re bluddlefilthy and from The Depths.

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail