The professor looked up to see an oval face, framed with stringy blond hair, peer into the room.
The face belonged to Sophia Simple—the least capable and most irritating of all his students.
She smiled apologetically and stepped into the room.
A sudden apprehension came over him.
"Can I help you, Miss Simple?"
She took a step forward and brushed the hair out of her eyes. The movement caused her backpack to slip from her shoulder and spill its contents.
A pencil rolled across the wooden floor.
"I—Oh! I'm sorry."
She stooped to shovel her possessions into the backpack. Her sweater slipped off one tanned shoulder.
"Miss Simple, we are in the middle of a seminar. Could you please tell me what you want?"
She looked up at him.
"Isn't this the—the, uh…" She rifled through the backpack and pulled out a small blue card.
His heart sank.
"Isn't this," Miss Simple squinted at the card, "'The Problem of Humanity'?"
"Is that an enrollment card?"
She smiled at him, while groping with one arm for the prodigal pencil.
"Where should I sit?"
He waved a weary hand at the only empty chair. He noted, with some satisfaction, that the irony was not lost on the class.
"Jeremy, would you provide Miss Simple with a copy of the text, please?"
Jeremy, probably the brightest in the class, seemed too anxious to comply.
The professor wondered if education shouldn't really be suspended during adolescence-until the brain wakes up from its hormonally induced dullness. He recovered himself and addressed the class.
"What clues does the author give us as to the nature of this story?—Jeremy?"
Jeremy was still watching Miss. Simple. His eyes snapped forward, with a brief flash of panic, then he broke into a slow smile.
"The author?" he drawled1 .
The professor allowed himself a tolerant smile. Jeremy was the brightest; he was also a smartass.
"The text, if you would prefer, Jeremy. And now that you've bought yourself time to think, will you answer the question?"
"There's the talking snake."
"Very good, Jeremy. Miss Simple, would you explain for us the significance of the talking snake?"
1Jeremy objects to the introduction of an "author" into the discussion. P is referring to a belief which, in its most extreme version, held that any mention of an author, or, especially, of an author's "intent" in the discussion of a text was questionable. In the binary spirit of the times, the professor seems to be on the extreme opposite end of the continuum—holding that interpretation can be completely reduced to discerning the author's intent. As ludicrous as these two extremes sound to our ears, we must remember that the science of ethno-semiotics was in its infancy at the time.