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Eric CarlLink The Snow Man:A Brief Afterword Dick Thompson is a scholar.He is a friend. Icannotspeakwith greaterauthoritythan Bob Lamb about his scholarship. I cannotspeakwith greaterauthoritythan Len Neufeldt about his friendship. I could speak of the years we spent writing Neutral Ground together,but of what use?We had an idea.Itgrewthrough sweatand serendipity.We labored overit forawhile.Itwas published andwe turned to our variousseparateprojects.There are stories that might be told, but they would be no different than the stories the contributors to this volume could tell a hundred differentways. They are good stories. WhenDick livedin WestLafayetteand taught the hell out of American literature and changed Poe studies forever and built retaining walls out of railroad ties to landscape his home and was a model of decency,he had a dining room adorned with a print ofJesus on the cross. It was a signed and numbered print by some artist whose name I’ve forgotten. It was an abstract portrait-lots of harsh black brush strokes, hints of thorns and pain. It was beautiful. We stood in front of it one dayand staredat itfora moment.Wesawthe same thing, but we saw differentthings. I sawa portrait of strength,suffering,and defeat.DickThompson sawthesethings,but he alsosawthe gentleness,the femininelines,whispersof somethingelse.I tried to seewhat he saw. I’m not sure I ever did. Maybe once or twice. We never spoke of that particular portrait again, but every time I walked past it I would slowmy steps to catch another glance. Literature-great literature-is likeJesus on the wall. DickThompsonknows this. He seesthe harsh lines and the gentle curves.The black marks on a cream background. He sees the suffering and the gentleness.The albatrossframingthe penguin.The apotheosisfrom out of the ocean perishing. I learned something about what it meant to be a scholar the day Dick Thompson and I were mullingovera coupleof his ideasaboutnineteenthcentury intellectualhistory and he turned to me and said that I should challenge his theories.Don’t acceptthem.Work them over. Tossthem outif they don’t work. I tested the theories. They worked. Among graduate students at Purdue, Dick Thompson had a reputation-a mystique. It had something to do with high standards, with intellectual rigor, with respect for the profession and for the true capabilitiesof the human mind-the things that sometimesscare graduate students, I suppose.Thoseof uswhoknow Dick Thompson’s infectious smile, easy laugh, and unflinching humanism would sometimes remind him of his reputationamongthegraduatestudents.He always actedbemusedby it, but hewasn’t.Not really. Itwas part of the landscapegarden he walked through. Wallace Stevensonce wrote, “Onemust have a mind of winter / To regard the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees crusted with snow.” In his scholarship,in his teaching, in the way he reads a poem, Dick Thompson is Stevens’ssnow man.The snowman asromanticironist.Poe,Hawthorne , Melville-fiery ice crystalsin Thompson’s garden. Forget Sapir and Whorf and the great Eskimo vocabulary hoax-Thompson knows the language of snow. A snowman with a soul of fire. Jesuson the wall of a dining room. Brightgildingsfringing thunderclouds. ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
p. 153
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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