Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lightest of light rereading

Two children's books by Eva Ibbotson, Which Witch? and Island of the Aunts. I really love Ibbotson's books, she should be much more widely known in the US than she is; the adult novels are my favorites (A Company of Swans is a good one to start with), but her recent children's ones (Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan) are as rich and satisfying as the adult ones and even more fairy-tale-like.

I am having only lightest rereading because I'm very, very close to finishing the new chapter of my "Breeding" book. It has gone surprisingly painlessly--for once I'm actually on schedule. It was originally going to be called "Husbandry and the Idea of Improvement," but it turned out not really to be about that at all. Currently I'm deciding between "The Problem of Culture" (slightly jargony?) and "The Trouble with Culture" (too hipster-academic-y? I dread nothing more than seeming to aim for trendiness in my academic writing; the thing that always makes me cringe is when decidedly NON-sexy academics use the word "sexy" to describe academic writing that really has nothing sexy about it in any sense that a normal person would recognize).


  1. Culture certainly has both troubles and problems! I can't help but shudder whenever I hear the word because it's so vague and yet so loaded at the same time. And cultural anthropology and I...well, you know about that! Was the "husbandry" in the first title choice refering to plant breeding or more directly to mate choice?

  2. More like crop cultivation--the root meanings of culture are very strongly in the cultivation of plants and (by analogy) people. Part of my point in this chapter involves stripping away nineteenth- and twentieth-century arguments about culture (everything from Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot to Boas and Geertz) in order to get back to the idea of culture as improvement (of land and of people)--my main texts in this chapter are a bunch of "georgic" poems and prose pieces and then Rousseau's discourse on inequality, Smollett's novel "The Expedition of Humphry Clinker" and Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia." The general theme is a tension within the concept of culture; on the one hand, culture is almost a moral imperative (improving land=improving oneself); on the other hand, culture taken too far tips over into luxury and corruption, so it is a poison as well as a remedy. Enough of this, anyway! I don't think it's the most interesting chapter I've written for this book; it's more of a story-telling bridge chapter than a piece of really original work...