It's 2016 and I'm rereading all the Barthes books I have (10 of them) with the excuse that I have a short encyclopedia-type piece on him due in a week. I got so excited about Barthes the other day (reading de Man's "Roland Barthes and the Limits of Structuralism") that my friend promised to make me a poster of him.
So far this year I have driven more miles than I would prefer, run five miles (in one go), finished a couple Updike novels, eaten a country-fried-steak with gravy, contemplated death, written a grant proposal to go to the Harry Ransom Center, found the first small swathes of gray hairs in my temples, wrapped up the editing for a new issue of Narrative, and now I am getting ready to begin a new semester as the assistant/apprentice for an upper-level undergrad course that is ALL. WALLACE. You heard me right.
In other news it was a Benjaminian Christmas for me: my partner got me all 4 of the Selected Writings in hardback (!!!!!!) as well as Walter Benjamin's Archive from Verso and a gorgeous copy of The Origin of German Tragic Drama (also from Verso). Now I can return all the library copies for another young soul to discover.
I'll leave you with the woodcut for January, from one of my favorite books ever, Spenser's Shepheardes Calender.
I watched American Psycho the other night, and it occurred to me afterward that it was as if Crime and Punishment and The Double had been spliced together. I checked it out and the epigraph to American Psycho is actually from Dostoevsky, so I'm probably not far off. Now I'm trying to write a little about Wallace and Raymond Carver: I know that Wallace adored Dostoevsky, and I've just learned that Carver loved telling the story of D's last-minute reprieve by the firing squad. In this triangle materializes the figure of Raskolnikov begging for mercy -- the man on his knees not even knowing why -- showing up in Wallace's Brief Interviews and Carver's "Intimacy" too. Dostoevsky is everywhere.
I've been busy revising my prospectus and writing a paper for the MMLA conference which is in Columbus this weekend, but I had the time to see the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, last night. I'm not sure why it's getting panned so severely, except that the movie's roles and attentions are a little too distributed -- there are two villains, with insufficient connection between them; there are two love interests, one purely sexual and the other almost too chaste (at least in what we are allowed to see). But in another way, this is interesting, because even an intensely plot-driven genre film is finding itself drawn to the minor characters and to multiplicity, to destabilizing our generic expectations that it will invest all its energy into the one woman, the one bad guy. Bond's friends also get a remarkable amount of screentime, with Q going into the field and Ralph Fiennes looking excellent in a double-breasted suit. And the film is also about fashion, with lots of incredible suits, sunglasses, some incredible Danner boots in Austria...and long lapels?? What's up, Tom Ford? But it's a good thing that there was so much style, because we went classic with minimal technology.
But the most ridiculous and incredible thing was the convergence of the film with DFW keywords and phrases..."The Pale King" was an important figure that Bond had to seek out, and he rides in a Rolls Royce "Wraith" in Tunisia. WHAT.
Other notes on the film: odd use of comedy; threat of neurosurgery; a little camp; very weird and over-stylized opening credits scene with octopuses, tentacles, fire, Daniel Craig's exposed chest, and writhing ladies.
Back to Infinite Jest, Bakhtin, syntax, voice, and more. My paper title: "David Foster Wallace's Scientific Style."
I'm currently sitting in bed with a virus, which may be becoming bronchitis -- no better time to update my log. I finally finished Beloved last night (left over from exam-crunching), which has been interesting to read alongside Vollmann's Last Stories and Other Stories. So many ghosts! So much death! But while being bedridden might work for fiction, this morning my addled mind was too weak to 100% handle Barbara Johnson's discussion of Poe, Lacan, and Derrida (though I could still delight in her excellent moves, my state was insufficient to juggle the at least 3 - or maybe more - critical positions in the essay.) Is this a little pathetic? Maybe. Nietzsche didn't stop reading just because he had those blinding headaches and so on. (Well, maybe he did take a break. Maybe.) In any case, I have some great friends from SCT to thank for putting me on to Barbara Johnson, even though it took me a year to get to her--between exams and the book having been stolen, the reorder lost, and now finally after 6 months delivered. It's turning out that this pleasure reading might even have some kind of place in my project, even if it's a small one.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of going to my first ASAP - the conference for the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present. Great acronym, long name. But it was a really excellent time, and even though I was struggling with pulling together the all-new material for my talk, it was actually received much better than I had expected. Lots of good feedback, learned a new word - "to audiate" - and even made some cool friends. In case you're interested, my talk was called "Listening to David Foster Wallace: Synesthesia and the Sound of Sincerity." I basically argued that narrative-theoretical discussions of "voice" (focusing on 3 articles by Jim Phelan) gesture to the synesthetic experience of hearing what you read silently, but they don't develop its implications. So I tried to do that, by exploring "hearing" and "reading" in Charles Bernstein and Thomas Ratcliffe (language-y poetic stuff) and then doing a rhythmic/metrical analysis of the beginning of The Pale King that tried to show how sonic components could contribute to a meaning/mood effect as diffuse as "sincerity." As conference papers go, it was looser and more exploratory than I've given before, but I think that paid off because the audience got engaged and had lots of good questions (and skepticism too -- which is good because the range of engagement suggests I'm on to something of value).
Now this week, in addition to sleeping, I have been reading more of that Vollmann (though it's a little deadening-depressing, all coins and dirt and death and rot), trying to write some of the emails I promised to send over the last few weeks, getting around to a crash course in linguistics and cohesion, and tomorrow seeing Susan Howe at a lecture + afterparty. Tonight I need to re-brief on her impressively voluminous body of work...
Now for some lunch and copyediting. Later: rest.
This weekend I'm at one of my favorite academic events, the English Institute, which I've been going to for four years now. The themes have been: Text, Form, Medium, and now Figure. What a rush! There are always so many chance opportunities to meet people, learn about things I would never encounter, encounter the rich embodiment of social and institutional history, and see how the profession works in other places and for other people. In the past, it's been held at Harvard, and this year for the first time it's moved to Yale (next year, Chicago; the next, Irvine).
So far I've absolutely loved Jeff Dolven's talk on poetry, style, and James Schuyler, "Cutting a Figure." The whole program is here. But it only touches the surface of what people talk about and all the other things they know and mention. It's been here that I developed my own idea of form, here that I learned about Luhmann first, here that I've made some incredible friends, and here now that I'm getting exciting advice about my work, conceiving and reconceiving my scholarly identity as it operates both inside OSU and in this (more theoretical) wider disciplinary world (er....well....America with some Canadians at least).
For the record, if anyone's reading: I did pass my candidacy exams, after being grilled generously and rigorously by a wonderful group of brilliant people: Brian McHale, James Phelan, Sandra Macpherson, and Robert Holub. It was much more terrifying than I had expected, each minute skulking slowly by, a sludge of questions and answers and thoughts and anxiety and knowledge and conviction and insecurity and vociferousness. Sometimes I talked for longer than I needed at a question merely to forestall the coming of another question. Sometimes I answered in single words. Sometimes I spoke and knew that the words I was saying were hopelessly a mess, and I turned them slowly into sense, as best I could. I looked at my watch a lot, and drank coffee to hide my grimaces when they came. And I kept my suit jacket on the entire time, perhaps as a sort of security, or perhaps I didn't want them to see my sweat. But finally, finally, it was over, and the pacing feverishly in the halls was mercifully short, and I was met with smiles and handshakes.
As always, the birds were there, a red-tailed hawk swooping far above on my bike ride to campus, and after, the white and blue herons waiting and fishing patiently in the river as they had before and will I hope always. Auspices in the east, which is the source of all beginnings. (See the etymology of "origin.")
An image stays with me of the white heron swooping along beside, flying to its roosting-place as I pedaled vigorously southward, it outpacing me but only by a margin, those white feathered wings moving slower than my legs: I may feel the world moves more quickly than I do, but perhaps if I move quickly I can see it closely even as the years speed onward.
To living and working quickly, which is my goal, because I have been relaxing and recovering and meandering, and feel much too slow. This stack of books must go on--
(Reading William Vollmann and thinking a lot about death and deep time and meaninglessness and humanity. See "Trench Ghost" in Last Stories and Other Stories. I had the goodfortune to have dinner with the man tonight after his reading and it was a wonderful and curious time, meeting such an exceptional and distinct human being.)
Current mode of existence: Piles of books around me, amping up the anticipation-anxiety, hitting up the library one last time, and laying in a mass of SNACKS for the next three days. I will be writing, writing, writing. Under pressure, I actually love churning out the words, but the formality of the exam as a gateway to the rest of the profession is, even for me, a little nerve-making. Maybe a combination of these two pictures I took yesterday: