About Amardeep Singh
Amardeep Singh is Assistant Professor of English at Lehigh University. His book, Literary Secularism: Religion and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Fiction, was published in 2006 by Cambridge Scholars Press. He has also published essays in journals like Wasafiri, Semeia, and Himal Southasian.
Posts by Amardeep Singh
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Plunge Deep: Jane Austen
I wanted to point people to Laura’s account of her investigation of textual references in Jane Austen, while she was assisting with the preparation of a new critical edition of Mansfield Park. (Laura is a grad student in Melbourne, not to be confused with the Laura at 11D)
In this blog post she recounts how she started with this passage from Austen:
I do desire that you will not be making her really unhappy; a little love perhaps may animate and do her good, but I will not have you plunge her deep, for she is as good a little creature as ever lived, and has a great deal of feeling.
A question mark comes up on “plunge her deep,” which sounds a little, well, you know. In this beautifully-written post, Laura shows where Austen probably got the phrase. (Read it)
Friday, April 22, 2005
Composition Without Rhetoric: John Guillory
English departments are constantly struggling to justify their existence in an increasingly results-oriented academic framework. What does studying literature prepare you to do? How will it help students get a job? We usually answer it with some version of “critical thinking and persuasion through written arguments,” which we hope will hold off the administrators for another year. But are the skills one uses to compose a compelling argument about George Eliot relevant at all to the kind of writing that dominates the corporate world? Why does it often seem that one is writing all the time—email after email after email—without actually involving oneself with the inner life of the language? In “The Memo and Modernity" (Critical Inquiry 31.1) Guillory draws on everything from Quintilian to Erasmus to The Handbook of Business English, to show the emergence of a massive genre of informational writing that is neither truly scientific nor rhetorical.
Samuel Johnson’s Anti-Aesthetic
Samuel Johnson, on the myriad ways readers end up somewhere in between pure utility and pure aesthetic appreciation. The following quotation is essentially a catalogue of interesting misreadings:
Continue reading "Samuel Johnson’s Anti-Aesthetic"
That a writer, however zealous or eloquent, seldom works a visible effect upon cities or nations, will readily be granted. The book which is read most, is read by few, compared with those that read it not; and of those few, the greater part peruse it with dispositions that very little favour their own improvement.
It is difficult to enumerate the several motives which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to any other action, serves at one time or other to stimulate a reader.
Some are fond to take a celebrated volume into their hands, because they hope to distinguish their penetration, by finding faults which have escaped the publick; others eagerly buy it in the first bloom of reputation, that they may join the chorus of praise, and not lag, as Falstaff terms it, in “the reward of the fashion.”
Some read for style, and some for argument: one has little care about the sentiment, he observes only how it is expressed; another regards not the conclusion, but is diligent to mark how it is inferred; they read for other purposes than the attainment of practical knowledge; and are no more likely to grow wise by an examination of a treatise of moral prudence, than an architect to inflame his devotion by considering attentively the proportions of a temple.
Some read that they may embellish their conversation, or shine in dispute; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or want the reputation of literary accomplishments: but the most general and prevalent reason of study is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent on the hour or the weather. He that wants money to follow the chase of pleasure through her yearly circuit, and is left at home when the gay world rolls to Bath or Tunbridge; he whose gout compels him to hear from his chamber the rattle of chariots transporting happier beings to plays and assemblies, will be forced to seek in books a refuge from himself.
The author is not wholly useless, who provides innocent amusements for minds like these. There are, in the present state of things, so many more instigations to evil, than incitements to good, that he who keeps men in a neutral state, may be justly considered as a benefactor to life.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Hatchet Jobs and Samuel Johnson Sound Bites
Samuel Johnson on learning the craft of writing:
The art of the writer, like that of the player, is attained by slow degrees. The power of distinguishing and discriminating comick characters, or of filling tragedy with poetical images, must be the gift of nature, which no instruction nor labour can supply; but the art of dramatick disposition, the contexture of the scenes, the involution of the plot, the expedients of suspension, and the strategems of surprise, are to be learned by practice; and it is cruel to discourage a poet for ever, because he has not from genius what only experience can bestow. (link)
Bad writing can be amended. I was thinking of this as I read Harry Siegel’s hatcheting of Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s not that I don’t agree with him on the basic issue; I do. But it’s hard to love a hatchet job, especially one peppered with smug phrases and unenlightening references to great authors to which the present example is unfavourably compared. In this case, many of Siegel’s criticisms come across as subjective: what is “shtick” to one reader may be perceived as “style” to another. And I suppose I just flat-out disagree with him about whether writers should use 9/11 as material for their idiosyncratic imaginations. I think they can; nothing is off limits.
[Note: Really, this post is just an excuse to point people to the Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page. Sorry if there was any confusion.]
Monday, April 18, 2005
Professors Under Siege: Hariharan and Byatt
I recently taught, in parallel, two books about relatively unassuming professors whose lives actually become a little bit interesting. One was Githa Hariharan’s In Times of Siege, and the other, A.S. Byatt’s Possession. As they are novels about academic life, both deal with academic controversies associated with the politicization of academic work in England in the 1970s and 80s, and India in the 1990s, respectively. Also, as both Hariharan and Byatt have taught at universities on and off, they include a fair bit of direct discussion of the issues; both novels have “lectures” alongside straightfoward narration. I have been meditating on whether the self-conscious intellectualism of the novels crosses the line into academicism (Bad Writing). Below, I say some critical things about In Times of Siege, but conclude that Hariharan finds a way of doing it that works. On the other hand, I say some nice things about Possession, but conclude that its theory about history actually doesn’t do quite what Byatt says it does.
I also do a fair bit of plot-summary of In Times of Siege (bear with me), but not of Possession, which is a much-better known story.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Nearly every far-out idea Salman Rushdie came up with in The Satanic Verses (pp. 422-430) has come to pass.
Construction of the Dickens World entertainment complex will begin shortly and it is expected to attract up to 300,000 visitors a year when it opens in 2007.
Its backers hope it will introduce characters such as Mr Micawber, Fagin, Magwitch and Uriah Heep to a generation that has grown up knowing little of his classic Victorian texts.
Kevin Christie, who is masterminding the project, said: ‘For a man who wrote 15 books and 23 short stories, you would be hard pressed to find anybody under 30 who can name five of them.’
Yes, that’s probably true. So who exactly are the 300,000 people who would be in line for tickets again?
What they need to do to drum up interest is some kind of Dickens mash-up literature, which would take his stock characters and place them in 150 page long Walmart friendly action-adventure thrillers and/or Oriental romances along the lines of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Think: Gaffer Hexam, Super-Spy. Or perhaps, a crime-courtroom drama franchise: Our Mutual Friend: Special Victims Unit.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Going Around the Room: A Questionnaire
It occurs to me that I don’t really know people here very well—participants, readers, or commentors. So I wrote a questionnaire, in the hope that if we know a bit more about each other, it might benefit the flow of the conversation.
And if it has the ancillary effect of warming up the waters in the comments of The Valve, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. (But let’s see what happens.)
The questions are sort of in the vein of those blog quizzes that one often sees, though I thought I would tailor the questions to the people who are participating in this blog, and perhaps many of the readers as well.
Don’t feel obligated to answer all the questions. Just mark your answers by number, so we know that “Arthur C. Clarke” is an author you like, not a library you study in.
And feel free to add questions, if there are things in others you are curious to find out.
(One final thing: I intend to answer my own quiz shortly, but I was hoping some other folks might jump in first.)Continue reading "Going Around the Room: A Questionnaire"
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Another Aspect of Bellow: A Reading of his Nobel Lecture
I haven’t read enough of Saul Bellow to comment on his oeuvre or his legacy. But one way of honoring him while continuing to tangle with him critically might be to point readers to his Nobel Lecture, from 1976.
Amongst the various ‘noble’ sentiments he offers in the lecture, Bellow makes a pretty specific point about the function of character in contemporary writing. He tangles with Alain Robbe-Grillet’s claim that the novel of bourgeois individualism is “obsolete” because in the latter half of the 20th century individuals are less important than ideas, systems, processes. Here is his quote from Robbe-Grillet’s essay On Several Obsolete Notions:
“Fifty years of disease, the death notice signed many times over by the serious essayists,” says Robbe-Grillet, “yet nothing has managed to knock it ["character"] off the pedestal on which the 19th century had placed it. It is a mummy now, but one still enthroned with the same phony majesty, among the values revered by traditional criticism."
Bellow’s lecture defends complex human character as the subject of literature, whose death is rather prematurely announced by Robbe-Grillet and others, beginning in the 1960s.Continue reading "Another Aspect of Bellow: A Reading of his Nobel Lecture"
Friday, April 01, 2005
Terry Eagleton’s After Theory: A Mini-Review
We recently had a seminar at Lehigh to discuss Terry Eagleton’s After Theory. I think the plan was to have a soul-searching discussion about the role of Theory in Our Scholarly Endeavor, its possibilities but also its limitations. Something like that. Perhaps, if someone was feeling grouchy, there might have been a “culture wars” type of showdown. Or, on a better day, perhaps people who ordindarily hold rather polarized views would have reached some kind of new understanding of what their nemeses are up to, and we would all have benefited from having Talked It Out.
But all this might have happened only if the substantial argument of Eagleton’s book had anything to do with its title. It does not.