“Of This Time, of That Place” opens with Joseph Howe, an English instructor at Dwight College, preparing for the first class of his course in modern drama. After his opening remarks, he sets his students to work on a theme, and as they are writing, a tall, awkward boy enters and announces, “I am Tertan, Ferdinand R., reporting at the direction of Head of Department Vincent.” Tertan’s essay on the assigned topic, “Who I am and why I came to Dwight College,” is remarkable for the breadth of its learning but dismaying for its wild rhetoric. In answer to his own rhetorical question, “Who am I?” Tertan exclaims, “Tertan I am, but what is Tertan? Of this time, of that place, of some parentage, what does it matter?”
That same evening, Howe, who is also a poet, reads in the journal Life and Letters a sharp attack on the “precious subjectivism” of his poetry. The author of the essay, Frederick Woolley, practices a criticism informed by “humanitarian politics,” and he dismisses as trivial the “well-nigh inhuman” poets who ignore the “millions facing penury and want” while they scribble away in their ivory towers. Woolley identifies Howe as representative of these poets of irresponsibility.
Stung by Woolley’s denigration of his poetry, Howe is nonplussed a week later when Tertan appears in his office to announce that he has read Woolley’s essay, that he, Tertan, is an aspiring man of letters, and that he is on Howe’s side against Woolley. This confession of faith makes Howe uneasy as it reveals Tertan’s sense of a complicity between him and Howe against the Philistines of letters.
Howe is still absorbing...
(The entire section is 687 words.)