Life, the Universe, and Everything.
7 December 2008
English for the rest of my damn life.
In the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made moan
earth stood hard as iron
water like a stone
— “In the Bleak Midwinter,” Christina Rossetti
“Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.” Snow was falling in Denver on Thursday when Doctor Farkas wandered from this world. The snow reminds me of him. Snow is like inspiration; you can see a new shape in every individual piece. Snow is fleeting, sometimes lasting weeks, sometimes disappearing in a day. Snow is flexible, taking new shapes in accordance with dreams.
My biggest regret, besides not talking with him more this past semester, is that I didn’t write down more of what he said. If I’d known how much of it would influence my writing, I would’ve taken courses in stenography before coming to Metro. Dr. Farkas can’t be quoted well from memory. His statements were like dreams: if you left them alone in your mind for too long, you would forget them but still feel oddly comforted or distressed even in their absence. He could link any two subjects in less than three degrees. I don’t remember how he linked Buffy to Joyce, and my friend Jen Goodland doesn’t remember how he linked Dante to Victorian pulp pornography. But it made sense at the time, and more than that, it was inspiring enough to remove the blocks which prevented creativity from flowing. I was able to finish my midterm; Jen was able to finish her honors thesis.
Thanks to Dr. Farkas, I believe there is a connection in every individual thing to everything else in creation. It just depends on how you look at it. Ever since I learned of his passing, I’ve been dwelling on the connection between death and life. Normally when something like this bothers me, I’d go and talk to Dr. Farkas. But I can’t do that now. The man who could make troubles right by showing connection between the most disparate things is gone.
He himself seemed to be connected to everything. Despite everyone knowing him, no one hated Dr. Farkas as far as I can tell. There were students who didn’t like him when they first came to know him (myself included). His teaching style was intimidating for some. For me it sounded like abstract fluff without anything substantial to back it up. But then it clicked. Something he said in his lecture on Rilke in Legacy II got to the back of my brain, turned a screw, and suddenly I could understand what the man was talking about. However, if you asked me to explain it, I would stammer incoherently. After spending a semester with him, no one I knew could speak against him. He was the only professor who seemed to be universally liked by the rest of the faculty. Whenever his name was brought up in advising sessions, class discussions, or just random chit-chat, I never heard anything but praise.
It’s very fitting that a host of honors theses, term papers, and (someday soon) books on a baffling assortment of topics will be dedicated to him. All from simple questions he would raise in class, “What is the connection between the shape of the widening gyre, Yeats, and literature?” or “Do you see how this doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Bible?” or “Where do you see mythic structure away from literature?” He was subtle in the way he taught students. Very often it was hard to tell if I’d been listening to him or if I’d somehow absorbed knowledge through osmosis. Ironically, it didn’t feel subtle. I often described listening to Dr. Farkas as “like having your brain sucked through your nose, played with, and then replaced in your head. Though when he puts it back, it’s a soupy, vague consistency. And you like it.”
Doctor Farkas loved music and literature. He told me once that he envied his son for having musical ability, whereas he could only appreciate it. He went on to examine the relationship between music and literature, specifically how Mahler influenced Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. So you see (I will always associate “you see” with Dr. Farkas), it was one of the ways he expressed love.
Doctor Farkas lived through metaphor. He breathed simile. (Shall I compare you to a summer’s day or an obscure recording of an interpretive dance adaptation of The Dead?) But he taught through synecdoche. I say that because he couldn’t show us the full extent of every connection he saw — that would take days. So he would section off smaller parts for our mortal minds to comprehend. Still he left a trail of confused, befuddled, yet somehow eased minds in his wake.
I’m going to miss that feeling. No other intellectual conversation is the same, no matter how electrifying or invigorating. Talking to Dr. Farkas was like running through the mountains in winter. Or walking under a new moon surrounded by stars. Or listening to the ocean and The Beatles at the same time. It was like becoming part of beauty for a few moments and knowing you belonged in that part of the universe.
I had a conversation with him about my hopes for the future and what I wanted out of a writing degree. Dr. Farkas told me he lacked the ability to create new art, and was stuck in the realm of critiquing and teaching it. I wish I’d known at the time what I’ve come to realize through writing this remembrance. Doctor Farkas didn’t need to create art. Doctor Farkas was art.