|The Hardy Boys, Siegfried Kracauer, Ornithopters
||I just read a pleasingly strange essay in the latest issue of the Southwest Review: “Even the Hardy Boys Need Friends: An Epistolary Essay on Boredom.” The essay includes all of the things mentioned in my title, and also the Oakland A’s, Walter Benjamin, Georges Bataille, Oprah, Kafka, relief maps, extravagance,…
|Fictions of Intelligence
||Lee Oser, the ALSC board member who got me involved in The Valve, just sent me the text of his forthcoming novel, Out of What Chaos. This book is more or less what one would expect if Walker Percy wrote about a cynical rock musician who converts to Catholicism, and then…
||I don’t like Broadway audiences, or so I have told myself for years: there are too many loud, aggressive tourists who keep chatting throughout the performance. Shouldn’t theater be a quasi-sacred ritual? I was expecting to be annoyed when I went to see a production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healerthat starred…
|Ben Jonson and Samuel Beckett?
||A few years ago Jonathan Post edited a wonderful anthology called Green Thoughts, Green Shades: Essays by Contemporary Poets on the Early Modern Lyric. It includes essays by Anthony Hecht, Peter Sacks, Alice Fulton, Heather McHugh, Linda Gregerson, Calvin Bedient, Robert Hass, William Logan, Stephen Yenser, and Eavan Boland.
|What We Talk About When We Talk About Genre
||In a course I am co-teaching at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Louise Geddes, one of the students, posted some questions about genre theory: I’m reading WHAT IS PASTORAL by Paul Alper, and he has an interesting discussion about the difference between mode and genre. Alpers cites Alistair…
|Genre : a Collection of Provocations and Koans
||I don’t agree with all of the statements that follow, and they don’t all agree with each other. But I find them all “good to think with,” as the anthropologists say. 1. “It might be no bad thing . . . for literary theory as a whole to be reformulated in…
|Moretti and Other Genre Theorists
||Scott McLemee accurately and amusingly describes the buzz surrounding Stanford professor Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary Theory: Moretti is a heretic; he wants to abolish close reading; and he asserts that we should count books rather than interpret them. Moretti claims to have developed a new,…
|A Few More Disjointed Thoughts on the MLA
||I, too, have a few thoughts on the MLA convention. First, this year the convention seemed curiously shrunken and lethargic to me. I would be interested in knowing whether any other MLA veterans shared this impression. I may have gotten this impression simply because I am less youthful and can no…
||For the last few weeks, I have been listening to Caedmon’s three-disc poetry anthology on my way to work. Getting to know the anthology has been pleasurable, humbling, and strange. The strangeness results from a trivial feature of the discs: each track begins abruptly, without any announcement of the name of…
|Who is King of the Cats?
||I had a disturbing realization earlier this week. The students in my graduate Shakespeare class were asking questions about the stylistic options available to them as critics. How long should one’s footnotes be, and why? [Answer: part of the fun of a Representations essay is the mini-essays in the footnotes; I…
|The Cruelty of Dickens?
||I finally read Dombey and Son, and as I read I found it disappointing. The novel is populated with the usual Dickensian grotesques, the figures who have been distilled down to a single habit or physical feature: Carker’s cat-like grin, Mr. Chick’s compulsive and inappropriate singing, and Major Bagstock’s choking and…
|Teaching vs. Research?
||What is the relationship between my research and my teaching of general education courses like composition? Is there any relationship? Rather than answering directly, I would like to offer a few parables. I will leave the interpretation of them up to you, dear reader. I am talking to a colleague about…
|Wittgenstein in Hawaii: A Non-Philosopher’s Naive Questions About the Philosophical Investigations
||Let me begin far away from Wittgenstein - half a planet away - with the work of Derek Bickerton, a linguist who teaches at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. My parable (or, in Kenneth Burke’s phrase, my representative anecdote) begins with a scene on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. One…
|Primitive Language Games
||What follows below is a slightly modified version of a passage from an article I published in 1995: A great deal has been written about Wittgenstein, but there are curious gaps still open. Relatively little has been written about Wittgenstein as a literary artist, and it seems to me that Wittgenstein’s…
||Perhaps those of us who have mixed feelings about the Norton Anthology of Criticism and Theory should offer a constructive alternative. If you could publish your own anthology of exemplary literary criticism, what would you include in it?
||Proust, whom I have been reading on my family vacation, sometimes sounds like a contributor to Theory’s Empire: in the final volume of In Search of Lost Time, Proust says things like “I began to perceive that I should not have to trouble myself with the various literary theories which had…
||The Research Assessment Exercise, which ranks departments and universities by the quantity of their publications, has had an unhappy effect on British academics. When one’s own paycheck depends on the number of publications extruded by one’s department, the colleague who publishes three mediocre monographs in five years is a hero; the…
||In one theatrical world, two sinister bronze statues, fifty feet tall, with flames shooting out of their heads, descend from the heights to hover above the singers, flanking a semi-transparent prismatic temple covered in hieroglyphs. Three albino boys with long white beards fly across the stage on a weird creature, part…
|A Note on Poetics
||It is the spring of 1991 and I am sitting in a clean, modern-looking seminar room (I think I remember blond wood, steel, and large windows) at the University of California at Irvine. I am trying to decide where to go to graduate school. The class begins with a series of…