Welcome to The Valve
Login
Register


Valve Links

The Front Page
Statement of Purpose

John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Advanced Search

Articles
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

Comments
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

XHTML | CSS

Powered by Expression Engine
Logo by John Holbo

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

 


Blogroll

2blowhards
About Last Night
Academic Splat
Acephalous
Amardeep Singh
Beatrice
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogenspiel
Blogging the Renaissance
Bookslut
Booksquare
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
Chrononautic Log
Cliopatria
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
CultureSpace
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Fernham
Ferule & Fescue
Ftrain
GalleyCat
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
Idiocentrism
Idiotprogrammer
if:book
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Kitabkhana
Languagehat
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Moo2
MoorishGirl
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Philobiblion
Planned Obsolescence
Printculture
Pseudopodium
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
ReadySteadyBlog
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
S1ngularity::criticism
Say Something Wonderful
Scribblingwoman
Seventypes
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Splinters
Spurious
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
Uncomplicatedly
Unfogged
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
Waggish
What Now?
William Gibson
Wordherders

Posts by Guest Authors

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Solitude of Alexander Von Humboldt

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 03/11/08 at 05:46 PM

When critics attempt to account for the genesis of Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude (a sort of Genesis text in its own right), there are two ready-to-hand narratives they can employ: first, the young Gabriel faithfully transcribing his grandmother’s fabulist stories, thereby producing a “magic realist” literary modernism out of humble beginnings, and, second, the “Faulknerian revolution” story that Pascal Casanova has been putting forward. In interviews, García Márquez has contributed liberally to both narratives. But here’s another source text, from the second volume of Alexander Von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During the Year 1799-1804:

“We found at Calabozo, in the midst of the Llanos, an electrical machine with large plates, electrophori, batteries, electrometers; an apparatus nearly as complete as our first scientific men in Europe possess. All these articles had not been purchased in the United States; they were the work of a man who had never seen any instrument,who had no person to consult, and who was acquainted with the phenomena of electricity only by reading the treatise of De Lafond,and Franklin’s Memoirs. Senor Carlos del Pozo, the name of this enlightened and ingenious man, had begun to make cylindrical electrical machines, by employing large glass jars, after having cut off the necks. It was only within a few years he had been able to procure, by way of Philadelphia, two plates, to construct a plate machine, and to obtain more considerable effects. It is easy to judge what difficulties Senor Pozo had to encounter, since the first works upon electricity had fallen into his hands, and that he had the courage to resolve to procure himself, by his own industry, all that he had seen described in his books. Till now he had enjoyed only the astonishment and admiration produced by his experiments on persons destitute of all information, and who had never quitted the solitude of the Llanos; our abode at Calabozo gave him a satisfaction altogether new. It may be supposed that he set some value on the opinions of two travellers who could compare his apparatus with those constructed in Europe. I had brought with me electrometers mounted with straw, pith-balls, and gold-leaf; also a small Leyden jar which could be charged by friction according to the method of Ingenhousz,and which served for my physiological experiments. Senor del Pozo could not contain his joy on seeing for the first time instruments which he had not made, yet which appeared to be copied from his own. We also showed him the effect of the contact of heterogeneous metals on the nerves of frogs. The name of Galvani and Volta had not previously been heard in those vast solitudes.”

Maybe García Márquez’ Spanish-language commentators know all about this (and I, like Senor Pozo, am reinventing the wheel from the periphery) but I can’t seem to find any references to the passage. And the parallels between José Arcadio Buendía and the Senor Carlos del Pozo are striking, as is the use of “solitude” to describe their thwarted desires to be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery. In the novel itself, there’s even a hat-tip to Von Humboldt, when the groping monologues of the senile Melquíades repeatedly return to the name of that 19th century explorer and the words equinox, itself an Humboldtian trope. But only one. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chinua Achebe and the Damnation of Faint Praise

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 02/27/08 at 12:12 PM

A few weeks back, at Critical Mass, there was an interesting interview with Norman Rush, an author primarily known for writing about his time in the Peace Corps in Botswana (hat tip). I won’t comment on Rush himself, but something he said caught my eye. After the interviewer asks him if he was influenced by any African writers--and good for Scott Esposito for asking a question that wouldn’t occur to nine tenths of critics in his place--Rush namedrops the usual troika (Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o) and moves on. But he first places himself in his place as a white writer, noting that “No non-African could do what Achebe has done.”

Maybe. Probably. Hell, almost certainly. But there’s a backhanded-ness to this compliment that makes me nervous. See, here’s the thing: Achebe is just a great writer, full stop. I’m not sure anyone could do what he did; I may be biased, but to me he’s almost without peer, by any criteria. And while this may seem like a small point, like complaining that a genuine compliment just isn’t enough of a compliment, there’s a larger point of which it’s in service, a larger issue of who gets to “know” what sorts of knowledges and why. It diminishes his achievement to pretend that white writers don’t write about the things he wrote about, because if Rush’s novels (or any post-war white novelist) had to be placed next to Achebe’s, we might have to acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that the best practitioner of English literature might be an African.

I am certainly not suggesting we treat novel-writing like a foot race; it’s not, but the lengths gone to prevent such a side by side comparison merits attention in its own regard. There certainly are those who implicitly treat literature as a kind of olympic sport, and for “our” writers to share the same field with “their” writers (whoever “we” are) would be as calamitous as for a black pitcher to throw to a white batter in baseball’s pre-Jackie Robinson era. He might strike him out, after all (or, more complexly, he might not). So, as a result, we get separate events for “race” or “cultural” writers, distinct and cordoned off from the more universal concerns of real writers. And, as widely read as Achebe is, it always irks me that people so rarely revere him in the way that I think he should be revered. I may seem to be making the banal request that people should revere him more, I’m not, not really; I’m saying we should revere him better, doing so for better reasons.

Things Fall Apart, for example, is a very deceptively simple book, and this apparent simplicity deceives (I suspect) the vast majority of his readers, from those who read it as simple anthropology to those who never trace out the use of Yeats in the title. Okonkwo may be a man who never let thinking get in the way of whatever he wanted to do, but his puppet-master’s seemingly uncrafted and naïve narration is as tightly plotted and structured as the Greek dramaturgy it both tropes on and exceeds (something Soyinka has done more ostentatiously, but not necessarily as well). And while it may seem to be the simple story of a man and his destiny, a simply redemptive vision of a romantic lifestyle wiped out by colonialism and a condemnation of the colonialists that did it, part of its magnificence as a piece of writing is that it manages to be all of this without disturbing its ability to also be about the ways that culture gets politicized, the way that traditionalism manages to express (and, dare I say, sublate) deeper and less coherent political anxieties and desires, particularly different modes of gender practice. And then it’s a novel which engages these conflicting desires with a certain magnificent disdain for resolving them, or moralizing on them; in fact, so much of what Okonkwo does is gets moralized upon in such spectacularly unsuccessful ways that one can (I would argue) understand Okonkwo only by deferring judgment of him, like a particle in a parable on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The plot hinges on why Okonkwo kills his stepson, but that act is also the novel’s black box; one can offer any number of explanations for Okonkwo’s act (and the consequences which it provokes in the style of Greek tragedy), but the novel does everything in its power to illustrate the ultimate unknowability of that origination, until one is left only to reflect on the ways that Okonkwo’s unknowability gets known, the ways that fictive truths take the place of a true truth eternally deferred. Precisely because the author refuses to authoritatively know Okonkwo, the novel has a profound and complex double-life, a narrative given shape by the absence at its center.

Anyway. The real point buried back there is that Achebe is not, in a “literary” sense, anything but a peer of “great” writers. And of course Norman Rush didn’t say that. But there is, hidden in the nest of assumptions out of which his aside slithered, a particular claim for the proper spheres inhabited by white writers and the proper sphere inhabited by Africans: what an African knows, a non-African cannot, and vice versa. To say that only an African could write what Achebe wrote is to excuse himself for not having done so, and to claim his own little piece of the rock, the white-in-Africa novel.

Not many people waste their breath in asserting that only a white person could really understand what it means to be white, and rightly. I think of the mystifications of the title character in Esk’ia Mphaphlele’s “Mrs. Plum” as an example of how it can be through the eyes of non-white characters (and authors) that “whiteness” gets expressed in all its glory. Sometimes those who live outside your world understand you in a way you don’t understand yourself, and this is as important a part of identity as the kind of claims made by any “race” writer. And it seems to me to be largely a white fiction that only Africans can understand Africa, in many case a means of deferring the necessity to even try, and Rush’s space-clearing gesture for himself also awards himself a kind of white privilege within “African letters”: happy to be shielded from competition, he is awarded a tiny, but comfortable corner in which to sit. Rush is as much a race writer in this sense as Achebe. But while Achebe was canny enough to realize that non-Africans would be quick to extend him the benefit of the doubt with regards to his subject (being African, he must surely know Africans), he was also well aware that he hardly deserved that credit, and made something of that realization. What, after all, did a Christian-educated Nigerian of the mid-twentieth century really know about the inner life of a late nineteenth century Igbo warrior, a man who never lived to hear the word Nigeria? So instead of eliding that knowledge, he built a magnificent literary edifice on top of it. Instead of donning the victory wreath he was awarded for a game he preferred not to play, he proclaimed that the center was hollow, and would not hold.

Addendum:
From the Washington Post on March 9th: “No European writer could have written ‘Things Fall Apart,’ “ says Ernest Emenyonu, who chairs the department of Africana studies at the University of Michigan at Flint. It was “a new kind of writing.”

Saturday, October 27, 2007

DeLillo in the Wild

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 10/27/07 at 07:09 PM

VA spots the rare, wild DeLillo in Ben McGrath’s profile of noted extortionist Scott Boras:

Someone almost feels vindicated: Boras sounds as bland—as Wonder Bread—as your typical DeLillo character and/or narrator, i.e. he represents all that is banal and evil in contemporary literature.  (Full disclosure: the bit about James Wood in that link is a tad ironic now, all things considered.)  I wonder whether the fault lies not with Boras, but with McGrath.  Boras might could be a run-of-the-mill agent whose rambling lectures were edited into DeLillo-speak by one of The New Yorkers‘ infamous dictators—but why would anyone do that?  What would the benefit be?  But there’s another possibility:

Given his legendary powers of salesmanship, perhaps Boras doesn’t speak DiLillo-ese—perhaps he learned it for the exclusive purpose of sounding like someone being profiled in The New Yorker.  No one actually sounds like that, of course, but Boras wouldn’t know that.  He’d push the hard-line and become the first person outside a DeLillo novel to speak like someone inside one.  That would be some feat. 

Relatedly: this seems an opportune moment to play a round of Spot-the-DeLillo:

As Jonathan noted, one of these things is not like the other.  Care to guess?  (Answer.)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

This Must Be What Finishing’s Really Like

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 09/30/07 at 09:13 PM

To follow up on the previous post about how uncomplicated—and lucrative, one must not forget lucrative—life in the academy is:

  1. An account of what it is like to write a dissertation.
  2. Another of what one looks forward to upon its completion.

Were it not for the money and the (many) attendant joys of indoctrination, I don’t think I would’ve made it this far.  (Or continue, for that matter.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Nell Standard

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 09/27/07 at 09:58 PM

Upon reading Miriam’s response to yesterday’s post, it occurs to me that Collins proposes a novel standard of literary value.

  1. Convene the PTA on the docks.
  2. Call up to the clipper’s captain: “Does Little Nell yet live?"
  3. If “yes,” deem the book acceptable.  If “no,” start the bonfire.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Read Happy Books; or, Hell, Learn How to Read

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 09/26/07 at 09:36 PM

(Lifted, in its entirety, from elsewhere.)

The folks at Phi Beta Cons are waxing anti-intellectual about Mary Collins’ complaint in The Christian Science Monitor.  According to Collins, her daughter has stopped reading because her school requires her to read novels with "distressing plots [and] sad, even sinister, story lines."  Most interesting to Carol Iannone, however, is Collins’ account of a conversation she had with some of her daughter’s classmates:

The string of searing plot patterns has resulted in some very peculiar unintended consequences. Most of the students I spoke with from my daughter’s middle school claimed that the readings made them feel inadequate because they never "experienced these horrible things."

"It becomes awkward," one student said, "because you’re constantly made to feel spoiled or privileged."

Her co-blogger, David French, picks up the baton and—in a move calculated to prove, definitively, his nub-mindedness—promptly thwacks the first professor he sees:

I enjoyed Carol’s post highlighting how the typical college reading assignment seems designed to make students feel “spoiled or privileged.”  In fact, professorial contempt for “spoiled or privileged” students is nauseatingly common.  Yet this is yet another example of academic blindness.  It is tough to imagine a more “privileged” person than a tenured faculty member at a major university.  Six figure income.  Ten month work year.  Absolute job security in the absence of actual fraud or criminal behavior.  No other profession in America enjoys such benefits.

That Collins and Iannone spoke of middle school reading lists is irrelevant.  The point is to drub academics wherever and whenever you can; in this case, for their contempt for the "spoiled and privileged."  You know that varnish spoiled, privileged children are taught to apply to their elitism in (ahem) finishing schools? 

French forgot to apply it.  He speaks here, openly, for the downtrodden, i.e. the spoiled, privileged children of wealth.  He is nauseated by the contempt in which these spoiled, privileged children are held.  That they behave in spoiled, privileged ways is irrelevant.  That is their culture, see, and these postmodern multiculturalists are hypocrites for shitting on these children’s unearned pretensions. 

They come from a better culture—one with money and power—and these arrogant professors have the nerve to inform them that the world shouldn’t bow to their every wish and whim?  Who do these professors think they are?  Did they go Andover?  Groton, even?  Who are they to spit upon our spoiled children?

To return to my original point—which, to be honest, I’ve yet to even hint at—Collins suggests that these children can be cheered up by reading something chipper like Huck Finn.  Because once Huck and Tom fool Jim into thinking he’s still enslaved, then torture him for a little while in order to satisfy Tom’s love of historical romance—well, those are an absolute hoot.  Guaranteed to cheer up a sallow youth any day. 

For that matter, why not have them read Connecticut Yankee?  It’s finale is clean, wholesome fun for children of all ages.   I mean, The Boss insists that the electrocuted knights be delivered a coup de grace, when he could have left them on the field to die horribly and alone, save for the screams and rattles of their compatriots.

My point, then, is that the canon debate factors into these issues in ways we shouldn’t, but do, ignore.  If Twain wrote Huck Finn today, I guarantee Collins and her ilk would complain about it being taught to their children.  (They do, of course, but for different reasons.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Constitutes Academic Labor

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 09/24/07 at 01:47 PM

This short essay by Mark Bauerlein requires a comment box, if only to highlight this aside:

Do not believe academics when they talk about summer research work. Outside the scientists, most of them are idle or labor on books and articles that they don’t have to write and that less than 50 people will read.

Let me break that down for you:

Most academics don’t work during the summer. 

Professors can be divided into two groups: 1) the idle and 2) those who work.  The latter, however, labor on books and articles related to their specialization, so only specialists will read them.  Therefore, the effort expended on them doesn’t count as work. 

Most academics don’t work during the summer.

Sounds fine to me. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Department of Everything Studies, Redux: Does Medium Trump Period?

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 08/22/07 at 05:38 PM

In response to a conversation here, Timothy Burke proposed a “Department of Everything Studies“:

I want to collapse all departments concerned with the interpretation and practice of expressive culture into a single large departmental unit. I’d call it Cultural Studies, but I don’t want it to be Cultural Studies as that term is now understood in the American academy. Call it Department of the Humanities, or of Interpretation, or something more elegant and self-explanatory if you can think of it. I want English, Modern Languages, Dance, Theater, Art History, Music, the hermeneutical portions of philosophy, cultural and media studies, some strands of anthropology, history and sociology, and even a smattering of cognitive science all under one roof. I want what John is calling Everything Studies, except that I want its domain limited to expressive culture.

He acknowledges the conventional complaint:

You have to give a syllabus that needs to be taught in a finite body of time some firm and justified limits. We can specialize in particular media for reasons of personal preference and intellectual competence. I couldn’t begin to write about music, but I can do fine with television and interactive media. Each of us has methodological limits that result from our training and our talents. I’m very bad with languages and linguistics: I couldn’t do criticism that required philology on any deep level. I’m not likely to ever be mathematically competent enough to do even simple statistical comparisons well. (emphasis mine)

A familiar voice responds:

[T]he traditional caveats apply: you’re unlikely to find a single instructor sensitive enough to the quirks of each medium to teach the course responsibly.  I’m sympathetic to this line of criticism, but it requires more of an instructor than the current system does.  Example: were I to teach a course on 19th Century American literature, I’d be duty-bound to include some Melville.  As I said, I’ve read Melville for pleasure since childhood, so with a month’s prep time I could pass myself off as a middling Melville scholar.  There are thousands of people more qualified to teach Melville, but since I’m nominally a 19th Century Americanist, no one would bat an eye if I did.

In an ideal setting, a Melville scholar would teach Melville and I’d glide in to close the century with Wharton, London, and Twain.  In an actual classroom, I teach Melville by proxy, on the basis of what I’ve gleaned from the Melville scholars no university can afford keeping in the wings.  I’m not the most sensitive reader of Melville, nor would I be the most sensitive critic of a show like Twin Peaks.  But give me a month to immerse myself in the secondary literature, and I’d be sensitive enough to teach it.  This isn’t to say I don’t sympathize with those who bemoan the teaching of works outside the media of their expertise.  I merely want to draw attention to the fact that we do something analogous all the time with nary a complaint.

I’m tempted to disagree—to argue that shifting between media is more difficult than shifting between periods.  What say ye?

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Theoretical Russian Army

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 08/13/07 at 04:14 AM

Of a famous nineteenth-century philosopher it is said:

[He] was unpalatable to late-nineteenth-century intellectuals because he preferred data over logic while their taste began to run increasingly on non-empirical lines towards Kant and G.W.F. Hegel.  The continual emendations he made to his texts failed to clarify his doctrines because it was his habit never to withdraw his original statement whle responding to a challenge.  Often he simply appended modifications to a position to the passage that had attracted critical attetion. [...] He practised the kind of defence the Russians had used against Napoleon by withdrawing into the vastness of his increasingly isolated philosophical system, confident that opponents would never muster enough empirical resources to threaten him.

Not that this nineteenth-century Žižek would be easily understood otherwise, for he suffered a fate which may soon befall his latter-day mate:

The school of philosophy that generated [him] is now a lost world whose structures of metaphysics and sennse of religious enquiry are enveloped by the mist.  Only [his] writings remain visible; they loom prominently as curious features in an otherwise apparently flat and unoccupied Victorian landscape.  This appearance of novelty is a misapprehension caused by the erosion of his intellectual context.  This is not merely a historical problem; it has caused continuing antithetical mistakes in the interpretation of [his] philosophy.  First, his principles often appear idiosyncratic even on subjects where they were conventional.  Secondly, when falsely taking on the guise of novelty they become hard to understand because his borrowings appear as oblique as his original contributions. [...] His arguments are interwined with forgotten nineteenth-century debates.  The result is to make [his] philosophy appear homespun and mysterious, even in places where it was derivative or sophisticated and clearly articulated.

Some may argue that the psychoanalytic tradition in which Žižek works possesses a staying power those forgotten nineteenth-century systems lacked.  Perhaps.  One could argue, however, that philosophical systems employing “the kind of defence the Russians had used against Napoleon” are, by virtue of their enforced isolation, more prone to disappearance.  Those who serve other philosophical masters are not likely to venture the psychoanalytic chill if it will kill them quick or drive them mad.  Or drive them mad and kill them quick, as in Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts: An Epic-Drama of the War with Napoleon:

Continue reading "A Theoretical Russian Army"

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Ideal Ulysses

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 08/01/07 at 01:17 PM

Big things are happening over at The Institute for the Future of the Book.  CommentPress v.1.1 is now available and relatedly, to my mind, two excellent posts on what Bob Stein calls the “ideal Ulysses." I highly recommend reading both posts in full, but the skeleton of Stein’s idea is thus:

1. beautiful text
2. copious annotations, easily hidden
3. integrated audio version
4. intuitive word/phrase glossary
5. explanatory references
6. close readings by experts
7. wiki and/or CommentPress functionality

I must say—and in so doing, disagree with those commenters who insist the book should be tackled naked—that this idea strikes me as nothing short of necessary.  Some of Stein’s suggestions seem like they could be folded into each other—what would the annotations contain if not explanatory references, a glossary, and close readings by experts—but they should be separable, so that someone who only wants the phrases glossed need not be burdened by explanation and explication, &c. 

To the objections of those who claim integrating Harrry Blamires’ Bloomsday Book and Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated would ruin the immersive experience of reading Joyce’s novel, I would only point to the ruinous effect of reading Mark Musa’s translation of Dante’s Commedia.  Witness the disastrous first page—the invasive summary occludes the brilliance of the opening tercet:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Wait—that isn’t what Musa writes.  This is:

Midway along the journey of our liffe
I woke to find myelf in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

See how far removed we are already from the immersive experience of Dante’s original?  Those who have read it in Italian, as I have, will testify to the superiority of the original.  But I didn’t read it in Italian until years after having acquainted myself with Musa’s translation.  The summary preceding each canto didn’t ruin it, nor did the explanatory notes following it.  I could choose to read them if I so desired.  And my first few times through the poem, I did. 

But after sufficiently familiarizing myself with the poem’s narrative, I stopped reading the summaries; after sufficiently familiarizing myself with the poem’s religious, political, historical and literary context, I stopped reading the notes; and after sufficiently familiarizing myself with contemporary, then medieval Italian, I stopped reading the translation.*

Difficult texts require gloss, and the more convenient that gloss is, the more likely the reader is to find themselves capable of immersion.  If Ulysses looked more like Musa’s Commedia, i.e. if it didn’t require three other books to read, more people would read it.  Appreciation of the novel should not depend on a preexisting familiarity with early 20th Century Irish politics. 

I conclude, then, with a ringing endorsement of Stein’s idea, and an intense desire to acquire the skills necessary to aid in its fruition. 

*And after I stopped practicing my contemporary and medieval Italian, I stopped reading the original.  Such is life.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sadly, Ass Survives Only in Serious Poetry and in Prose of Some Solemnity

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 07/15/07 at 10:39 PM

So says A.E. Housman, as related here.  More of substance shortly, as soon as I unburden myself of all that’s in my pipeline.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sensible Literature for Sensible People

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 07/05/07 at 06:29 PM

Carol Iannone diagnoses the reading public with “Pomo Lit Fatigue Syndrome,” and I must concur: I tire of the cleverness and the sophistication.  Too long has literature labored under the burden of the literary.  These characters whose actions are not motivated by rational self-interest, they pale when compared to a Родион Романович Раскольников.  What scene in literature is more memorable than that in which homo economicus employs a Von Neumann-Morgenstern utility function to select from three his future bride?  Why does the tripe of Ondaadtje—and his forbear, William Gass—meet with accolades when both expect readers

to pick out the patterns in the metaphors...oblige [them] to trust that there are patterns, while the author looks on silently.

Would that literateurs do not simply tell us what the world means.  It is not so complicated as they insist.  There is a moral order and violations of it, such as: murder, metaphor, complexity, and socioeconomic affirmative action.  Would that they cease the production of books which demand careful attention, when such attention could be more profitably spent elsewhere—I, for one, find a day with my nose in a technical manual to be of no small intellectual reward. 

Truly, if God had wanted us to spend more time pondering parables, he would have written more in the Bible.  I have no doubt Iannone would concur.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Taking Readings on Exegetes of Our Vladimir

Posted by Guest Author, Guest Author, on 07/02/07 at 10:49 PM

This is guest post by frequent commenter nnyhav, who - you should know - blogs at Stochastic Bookmark.
- the Management (who just moved house, so isn’t he tired?)

Nabokov Studies #10 arrived unexpectedly this week – I’d thought my subscription had run out – in appreciation, I’ll go beyond the abstract (available at above link) to record my take on what’s of interest in these articles, and perhaps illustrate why scholarship can matter to a lay reader.

Continue reading "Taking Readings on Exegetes of Our Vladimir"

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fitzpatrick, “Authority 3.0,” and Pessimism

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 07/01/07 at 11:45 AM

Very interesting post this morning by Kathleen Fitzpatrick on Michael Jensen and “Authority 3.0.” Any scalable model of online scholarly review will not depend on the quality of the pre-reviewers, but on what could be called “peer-to-peer reviewers.”

That is, the pre-reviewer model is but the importation of the current mode of scholarly review—submitted articles vetted by one or two anonymous readers, sent back with vague notes based on arbitrary standards, etc.—but peer-to-peer reviews would be transparent and more democratic. 

The common complaint is that this would replace one fraught system with another, and to counter this, MediaCommons wants to develop “a schema for ‘reviewing the reviewers,’ for determining not just the authority of a text but the authority of the commentary on that text.”

To this end, Fitzpatrick asks:

[W]hat are the metrics we need to include both in the review of texts and in the review of the reviewers? How should those metrics themselves be evaluated? What is at stake for members of the network (whether authors, researchers, or more casual readers) in the inclusion and contextualization of those metrics? And what do we need to do, now, to communicate to our institutions that this is, in fact, the future of scholarly authority, and is thus a model of assessment that must be taken seriously by hiring, retention, and promotion committees?

As revolutionary as I would like this new model to be, I think its acceptance will depend on how successfully it grafts itself onto the traditional pre-review model.  The first generation of peer-to-peer reviewers must likely be cut from the same cloth as the current pre-reviewers—more to the point, they will need extensive experience as readers for major journals. 

Wooing such readers will be difficult, however, as they already have the prestige the Authority 3.0 crowd seeks.  The only solution seems to be that that some mensches do double-duty, climbing the traditional ladder while simultaneously building a better one. 

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ohio State University Press’ Open Access Initiative

Posted by Smurov, Guest Author, on 06/29/07 at 01:04 PM

OSUP’s Open Access Initiative is quite impressive, even if their vociferous insistence that they’re not like us stings:

The mission of The Ohio State University Press is to disseminate the best scholarship as widely as possible. Towards that end, we are making the complete texts of certain books available from our website. You will need the free Adobe Reader or some other PDF-enabled program to read the text.

All titles available this way, whether old or new, have gone through the exact same peer review process as our printed books. Any book that carries our imprint—no matter what medium is being used—has been approved by our Editorial Board after a thorough vetting process.

As you click to read the books, note that almost all are prefaced by something like this:

This title is no longer available in a traditional print edition. Nevertheless, the following PDF files contain the complete text of the book and may be used for any non-commercial purpose. The text remains © 1982 by the author.

In an economy of reputation like ours, it only makes sense to have out-of-print scholarship available online.  (This point is not lost on regular readers, even if the link to John Holbo’s post on the matter is.) This is especially true of works like James Phelan’s Narrative as Rhetoric: Technique, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology, first printed all the way back in 1997. 

I tip my hat to Ralph Luker, who tipped his to The Long Eighteenth.

Page 2 of 6 pages  <  1 2 3 4 >  Last »