I wasn't aware until last week just how profoundly Paul Violi affected me. While many people knew him for years, in contrast I spent very little time with him, one of about twenty students in a course at NYU called "Writing Workshop II" in 2009.
I remember his wry humor and deep knowledge of language, how he derided the term 'workshop' in our first class ("Workshop? Hm. I guess that's what they're calling it these days…"). I also remember our first assignment, that same day: an analysis of John Keats' "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer". I had never read Keats. I was saddened after I had, not because of the poem's language, but because I also learned its author died so young. It made me reflect on the inevitability of death and what we leave behind when we are gone. Now someone I knew, a poet, a teacher, a mentor, dear to many, has died too soon.
So it is ironic that I received the sad news from my semiotics course professor, because during the next class a student gave an intensely personal presentation, a "narrative" about the passing of loved ones in her family, instead of a purely intellectual treatise on signs and symbols. It is ironic that the presentation was called "The Death of The Author," which analyzes a work called "The Labyrinth of Lost Sounds" about people, animals and objects that no longer exist and of whom all that remains are recordings of the sounds they made, because she both wrote and delivered it.
And it is ironic that the last thing he said to me - just one word - was "Macaulay" as I left his class one night. He was suggesting he found my writing similar to that of Thomas Babington Macaulay, implying I could write and encouraging me to write...and yet I still have such difficulty writing.
Finally, it is ironic that "The Death of The Author", ended up not being about what its author intended or the class perceived, and instead so aptly and painfully spoke to me of the loss of Paul Violi. He will be deeply missed.
William Faulkner, whom I studied for our second assignment, perhaps said it best when he proclaimed, "The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."