When I write the novel in my head, the novel of bureaucracy, the roman a clef that will stand as the lighthouse to which I always will turn while I contemplate the extent of my ambition, the text that will serve as the key to all mythologies, I find myself recalling a certain passage in the Ring trilogy.
No, not Wagner, you jackass.
Specifically, the passage regarding the death of Denethor. The mayor of the palace, the one who ran from the pyre and fell, flaming, rather than face the wrath of Gandalf.
Why is that this image, in particular, is the one that comes to mind when I contemplate the narrative arc of my career?
Is is that I hope that my boss, or my grand-boss, will fall from the Evita deck overlooking 24th street, drunk on cocaine, while declaiming his latest vision for organizational transformation?
Is it that I imagine that I will end up running, aflame, and pursued by a white knight armed with a lance, only to fall to my death from some great precipice and observed only by a hobbit, a nerd, and some nameless flunkies with torches?
Do I imagine myself the white knight who, armed with the lance of knowledge, will drive a the decadent and corrupt imp from his glamorous bonfire? What, or whom, is it exactly, that I imagine is being torched, the better to illumine the vanity of the usurper?
What is this nugget that it keeps rolling around in my brain, and will it shine when it emerges from that tumbler? Or will it be just another chunk of fool’s gold crumbling away between my thumb and forefinger when I test its durability?
This is, I think, the fundamental problem with a liberal arts education. We read texts, and imagine that perhaps they serve as templates. And we understand — or course — that templates always lead to smudging. That there’s never a perfect transference. That when one transposes epic Greek poetry to early 20th-century Dublin there’s necessarily a certain smudginess. A certain slippage, if you will. It’s not as simple as trying to find Rev. Casaubson’s universal key, and saying that Steven Daedalus is Odysseus (a point made much more aesthetically beautiful, I should admit, by Alison Bechdel), etc. etc. It’s more about thinking carefully through why it is that one imagines