Tobacco chaw and human weighings by a professor of English (Texas Christian Univ.) who wonders whether he exists, and who finds the greater public crises of past decades writ small in his own life. Corder is a kind of down-home Kafka whose fingers skim the air in hopes of netting some pollen from a phantasmal 20th-century life. His clear, uncluttered style never tires the reader, though one keeps waiting for a more passionate quickening. Vague confessions arise: ``Perhaps I am the twentieth century, mostly shallow, mostly superficial, incapable of great art or much of anything, genuinely, thoroughly mediocre, watching at a distance as the trivial becomes monstrous, the monstrous trivial.'' One palpates such writing for feeling beyond word play, and it's not always there. Even so, Corder unearths enough of his heart to keep us hungry for some big dish that may lie ahead. What we get are linked epiphanies, daisy chains of homecomings for a Ulysses who never left. Every great change, Corder finds, brings nostalgia in its wake, and he charts his own sighs as wave-patterns in the culture. One sigh springs from his own deconstruction: ``Language is orphaned from its speaker'' and lodges ``in the perceiving minds of readers....Authors...now fade away into nothing.'' We win such small leavings, he warns. ``Can I get a witness? Can you? Can she, or he? In texts that are absent?'' Through haze, Corder finds himself in childhood comic books, road maps, snapshots, the Depression, the Lux Radio Theater, the Holocaust--and in forlorn thoughts of a daughter now far off, whose skin temperature he traces daily in weather reports. Subliminal grieving for a life lived in ribs of dust.