Porter, Laurence M(inot) 1936-
PORTER, Laurence M(inot) 1936-
PERSONAL: Born January 17, 1936, in Ossining, NY; son of Fairfield (an artist and art critic) and Anne Elizabeth (a poet; maiden name, Channing) Porter; married Elizabeth Johnson Hart (an architect), June 9, 1960 (divorced, 1979); married Laurel Melinda Cline (a social worker and writer), January 17, 1980 (divorced, 1992); married Marjorie Risser (a fundraiser), May 29, 1993; children: Leon Fairfield, Sarah Elizabeth, John Carl Fairfield. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Harvard University, A.B. (cum laude), 1957, A.M., 1959, Ph.D., 1965. Politics: Independent. Religion: "Agnostic." Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, backpacking, competitive running (including the Boston Marathon), music.
ADDRESSES: Home—723 Collingwood Dr., East Lansing, MI 48823-3416. Office—Department of Romance and Classical Languages and Literatures, Michigan State University, 256 Old Horticulture Building, East Lansing, MI 48824-1112; fax: 517-432-3844. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Michigan State University, East Lansing, instructor, 1963-65, assistant professor, 1965-69, associate professor, 1969-73, professor of French and comparative literature, African studies, Canadian studies, and West European studies, 1973—. University of Pittsburgh, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature, 1980. National Colloquium on Nineteenth-Century French Studies, codirector, 1978. Military service: U.S. Army Reserve, Corps of Engineers, 1957-63.
MEMBER: International Comparative Literature Association, International Society of Dix-Neuvièmistes, Modern Language Association of America (life member), American Association of University Professors, American Comparative Literature Association, American Association of Teachers of French, Women in French, Phi Kappa Phi, Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation fellowship, 1966; National Endowment for the Humanities, travel grant, 1989, senior fellowship, 1998; United States Information Agency grant for Senegal, 1991.
(Translator) Joseph de Maistre, On God and Society: Essay on the Generative Principle of Constitutions and Other Human Institutions, edited by Elisha Greifer, Regnery (Chicago, IL), 1959.
The Renaissance of the Lyric in French Romanticism: Elegy, Ode, and "Poëme," French Forum Monographs (Lexington, KY), 1978.
The Literary Dream in French Romanticism: A Psychoanalytical Interpretation, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1979.
(Editor, with Laurel Melinda Porter) Aging in Literature, International Book Publishers (Troy, MI), 1984.
(Editor) Critical Essays on Gustave Flaubert, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1986.
The Interpretation of Dreams: Freud's Theories Revisited, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1987.
The Crisis of French Symbolism, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1990.
(Editor, with Eugene F. Gray) Approaches to Teaching Flaubert's "Madame Bovary," Modern Language Association of America (New York, NY), 1995.
Victor Hugo, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1999.
(Editor) Approaches to Teaching Baudelaire's "Flowers of Evil," Modern Language Association of America (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor) A Gustave Flaubert Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2001.
(With Eugene F. Gray) Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary": A Reference Guide, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2002.
Contributor to books, including A Critical and Selective Bibliography of French Literature, Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1994. Contributor to professional journals. Member of editorial board, Degré Second, 1976-92, Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 1982—, Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature, 1990—, and Women in French Studies, 2002—.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Reading Great Women Authors beyond Gender: The Autonomous Imagination, for Greenwood Press (Westport, CT); "Happening, Knowing, and Telling: How Stories Work in Life and Art," to be included in Characterization in Flaubert, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY).
SIDELIGHTS: Laurence M. Porter once told CA: "As a critic and professor, I try to teach people to read and write better. To me, this means helping people to overcome the unreasoning prejudices that impoverish their experience and to recognize the nuance, hidden coherence, and significant detail which disclose the richness of artistic creation. I encourage people to articulate their own perceptions in a way which allows them to discover the wealth of their own individualities and to profit from the unlimited second chances which reading and writing, unlike life, can offer.
"My primary motivations for writing have been to serve as a bridge between French literature and culture, and the United States, so as to foster a deeper understanding and a keener enjoyment of a great civilization among Americans; to improve my teaching, which I feel must always be grounded in ongoing research; and to honor creative artists, to whom we owe so much—in particular, my late father (a painter, critic and poet); my mother (a poet and finalist for the National Book Award); my daughter (an artist and writer of fiction); and many others whom I have had the pleasure of knowing and admiring. Finally, I would like to contribute to a heightened awareness of the value, rights, and sufferings of others, so that the world might become a better place, freed from brutality and from the tyranny of ideologies.
"The major influences on my work have been eclectic. Deconstruction has influenced my open-ended use of provisional binary opposites, posited only to demonstrate that the rigid systems of thought that they define always prove incomplete and inadequate. The lucidity and rigorous argumentation of thinkers such as Stanley Fish and Jean-Luc Nancy has provided a model to emulate. The skepticism of writers such as Sigmund Freud and Frederic Jameson has encouraged me to look beneath the surface of texts, and to explore the emotional, political, and religious 'unconscious' (usually, in fact, the 'preconscious,' suppressed but still accessible). As a pedagogical technique, in my writings I often posit an hypothetical 'organic unity' of texts, meaning that often, an individual part can help one understand the whole, as the DNA in a single cell may allow scientists to identify the organism of which that cell was part. The linguistic concept of 'marked choice' strongly influences my thinking, as do many positions in feminist thought.
"When I write about an author, I first read and reread the text, meditating on the dynamic interrelationships of forces that I observe there. I then alternate between sketches, rough drafts, outlines, and more sketches, trying always to be in a position where I need to prune my essays down to the essentials, and to be sparing of words. I may return to a topic at intervals over a decade or more, until my experiences have become rich enough to share. I often pause to psychoanalyze the emotional needs and drives that have led me to choose certain subjects.
"Probably my main inspiration for writing most often on nineteenth-century French literature was the influence of the late Rene Jasinski and Paul Benichou, who left the Sorbonne to teach at Harvard beacuse they found the French system too stuffy and hidebound. Their gentle warmth and kindness were priceless gifts. Shortly after Paul Benichou came to the states, we were exchanging French for English lessons. One evening in his apartment, as he warmed his dinner, he looked over toward me from the stove, grinned, and observed, 'In France, it would be unthinkable for a professor to allow his student to see him cooking.' To their influence and erudition was added that of two young, temporary faculty who tutored each for a year during my last two undergraduate years—Roger Shattuck and Serge Doubrovsky. When one discussed literature with them, they trembled with excitement, and their eyes glowed with pleasure. Modeling enjoyment may be the most important thing a teacher can do."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2001, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of A Gustave Flaubert Encyclopedia, p. 150.
Nineteenth-Century French Studies, spring-summer, 2001, Stamos Metzidakis, review of Victor Hugo, p. 358.