Monday, July 28, 2014

Stripped naked

I usually spend July writing something that's intellectually pressing to me, but this year it has been an anomalous month of syllabus design.

Most of the classes I teach fall together pretty easily (making a syllabus for a course on Pope and Swift, or on the eighteenth-century novel, is really very straightforward). This class caused me to examine all of my underlying presuppositions about literary criticism, what an English major should know, literary canons, etc. etc.! I would have perhaps felt the crisis more intensely if I hadn't already experienced it once before.

Often I think of syllabus-making as a form of enjoyable precrastination (I am not a precrastinator, my inbox has tens of thousands of emails that I never clean out and I leave lots of things to the last minute so that I can focus on the things that are really important to me, a syllabus is one of those things that can often properly be done shortly before classes start rather than taking up valuable summer mental real estate).

In this case, though, it was some of the most substantive and demanding intellectual work I've done for a while, and it was important to get it drafted now so that the seminar leaders I'll be working with have some idea of how they will supplement and shape the course with their own contributions.

It is really an impossible task: I have left a huge amount out, and there are all sorts of things I'm not doing at all (most notably, I think, I'm pretty much excluding almost all of cultural studies and all of the more political end of literary studies). That said, I am extremely excited about teaching it.

I am now just hoping that there will be a work-study student in the English department who will help me xerox and scan these book chapters!

Anyway, here it is, provisionally:

Books (available at Book Culture):

Austen, Emma (Oxford World’s Classics)
Beckett, Endgame (Grove)
Brown, Clotel (Bedford/St. Martin’s)
Dickinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Belknap)
Jackson, Dickinson’s Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading (Princeton)
Milton, Paradise Lost (Hackett)
Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays (Oxford World’s Classics)
Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads: 1798 and 1802 (Oxford World’s Classics)

Readings marked # are available on the Courseworks site.

9/2 Introduction

Criticism as taxonomy: ways of looking and describing; intensive vs. extensive reading
Literature and criticism pairings: Georges Perec/David Bellos, Christopher Smart/Geoffrey Hartman
Non-academic literary criticism: Geoff Dyer, Elif Batuman, Alan Hollinghurst, Andre Aciman

Readings for first seminar meeting:

#Donne, “The Canonization,” “The Ecstasy”
#Cleanth Brooks, from The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (1947; San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), 3-21

9/9 Milton, books 1-4 of Paradise Lost

#Stanley Fish, from Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, 2nd ed. (1967; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 22-37
#Christopher Ricks, from Milton’s Grand Style (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), 118-138
#Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, from “Milton’s Bogey: Patriarchal Poetry and Women Readers,” The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979), 187-207

9/16 Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads (selections TBA)

#Geoffrey H. Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787-1814 (1964; Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1987), 141-162
#Paul De Man, “Time and History in Wordsworth,” Diacritics 17:4 (1987): 4-17

Short assignment #1 due in seminar

9/23 Dickinson, poems and Virginia Jackson, Dickinson’s Misery (selections for both TBA)

9/30 #Herbert, “Easter-wings” (2 versions)

# Random Cloud, “FIAT fLUX,” in Crisis in Editing: Texts of the English Renaissance, ed. Randall McLeod (New York: AMS Press, 1994), 61-172
#W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,” in The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (1954; New York: The Noonday Press, 1958), 3-18
#Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/The Noonday Press, 1977), 152-154

Short assignment #2 due in seminar

10/7 #William Sherman, “Dirty Books? Attitudes Toward Readers’ Marks,” from Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 153-178
#H. J. Jackson, “‘Marginal Frivolities’: readers’ notes as evidence for the history of reading,” in Owners, Annotators and the Signs of Reading, ed. Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote (New Castle, DE and London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2005) 137-151
#Andrew Stauffer, “Hemans by the Book,” European Romantic Review 22:3 (2001): 373-380
#Nicholson Baker, “Discards,” The New Yorker (April 4, 1994): 64-86

Oct. 8 – Book Traces event, Butler Library

Seminars meet this week or next week, pending scheduling, at Butler Rare Books and Manuscripts

10/14 Sterne, Tristram Shandy, books I-II (5-137), V.xvi-xix (336-41), VI.xxxvi-xl (420-27)

#Victor Shklovsky, “The Novel as Parody,” in Theory of Prose, trans. Benjamin Sher (1990; Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1998), 147-170
#Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), 2nd ed. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press,1983), 221-240
#Peter Brooks, from Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (1984; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), TK
#Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Musgrove Ritual”

10/21 Austen, Emma (vol. 1 at a minimum)

#James Wood, “Narrating,” from How Fiction Works (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), 3-38
#Frances Ferguson, “Jane Austen, Emma and the Impact of Form,” MLQ 61:1 (2000): 157-80

Short assignment #3 due in seminar

10/28 William Wells Brown, Clotel

#Ann duCille, “Where in the World is William Wells Brown? Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the DNA of African-American Literary History,” American Literary History 12:3 (2000): 443-462
#Jonathan Senchyne, “Bottles of Ink and Reams of Paper: Clotel, Racialization, and the Material Culture of Print,” in Early African American Print Culture, ed. Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 140-158
#Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 26 (2008): 1-14

Short assignment #4 due in seminar

11/4 Election holiday – no class

11/11 #Melville, Billy Budd

#Barbara Johnson, “Melville’s Fist: The Execution of Billy Budd,” Studies in Romanticism 18:4 (1979): 567-599

11/18 Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

#Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Tales of the Avunculate: Queer Tutelage in The Importance of Being Earnest,” in Tendencies (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 52-72

Final paper proposal (topic, projected argument, selected evidence, annotated bibliography) due to seminar leader Friday, Nov. 21

11/25 Beckett, Endgame

#Theodor W. Adorno and Michael T. Jones, “Understanding Endgame,” New German Critique 26 (1982), 119-150

12/2 #Franco Moretti, “Trees,” in Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (London and New York: Verso, 2005), 67-92
#Matthew Kirschenbaum, “The Remaking of Reading”
#Natalia Cecire, “Ways of Not Reading Gertrude Stein,” ELH (forthcoming)

Draft of final paper (8-10pp.) due to seminar leader Friday, Dec. 5; final paper due to seminar leader at a date of his or her specification.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Closing tabs

Mark Cocker reviews Helen Macdonald's new book H is for Hawk at the Guardian. An interesting review - at first I felt very keen to read the book, then Cocker proceeded in a manner that was at once gentle and persuasively negative (might be I should read one of his books instead?):
There is a highly polished brilliance to her writing and the short staccato declamatory sentence, sometimes of just a single word, is almost a signature of her style. Yet the syntax carries a persistent subliminal message of stress and anxiety and when we are presented with her repeated, if unsparingly honest, declarations of grief – I lost count of the number of times she breaks down or bursts into tears in the book – it is as if we already know it before she tells us. The total effect is a seeming excess of strong emotion.

Yet elsewhere she deploys the same stylistic elements to immense effect. One good example is her evocation of her hawk's own psychology. More than any other writer I know, including her beloved White, Macdonald is able to summon the mental world of a bird of prey. There is one classic moment when she meets the young Mabel for the first time. She conjures the shock of the encounter and simultaneously manages to get inside the head of the bird. "My heart jumps sideways," she recalls, "She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water."
NB the writer who I think of as the world's worst offender in the matter of staccato declamatory sentences: Kathy Reichs!

Am now panicking about how much I need to do around the edges of other commitments before leaving for Cayman very early Wednesday morning. It is slightly daunting, though this is always the case and I am sure it will all sort itself out in the meantime....

Two really good British crime novels that I had to read on old-fashioned paper: it is frustrating for the avid North American reader of British police procedurals that so many of the very best ones are not instantly transmitted on the other side of the Atlantic! Harry Bingham, The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (this is superb, possibly the best yet in this series - I ordered it from the Book Depository as there wasn't a copy in the BorrowDirect system); and Stav Sherez, Eleven Days, which will be out here in October but which I really just couldn't wait for! Fortunately the Harvard library had a copy, and BD got it here for me pretty quickly. This one's very good too - more consistent in pacing and integration of material than the first in the series, I think, with really winsome voice and characters. I want more....

A book that didn't entirely satisfy me, though it is quite good: Ruth Eastham's Arrowhead, which I enjoyed but which didn't live up to the advance billing in the review I read (I am too lazy to find it and link to it) in which she is likened to Alan Garner. I thought it actually had more in common with Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence - there are a couple moments that are almost too close to be conscious allusions.

(I remember reading Alan Garner for the first time - my third-grade teacher had an amazing collection of otherwise unavailable British children's books, available for borrowing if you filled out a library card - the library had taken over the top floor of her house! - and I was astonished by the extent to which The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service were THE MOST PERFECT BOOKS EVER!)

Anthony Neil Smith's Yellow Medicine (this guy is writing really great smart funny super-violent noir).

Daryl Gregory's Afterparty (very good - a bit too reminiscent of a whole crop of other like-minded books, definitely written within a pretty narrow set of genre constraints, but the narrator's voice and the story and execution are excellent - I thoroughly enjoyed it).

I couldn't run this morning due to minor twinges that begged to be respected, but I did make it to a real swim practice for the first time in who knows how long. Now so pleasantly fatigued that I am thinking about going to bed, well, NOW!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"She might scruple to make use of the words"

A passage that has always fascinated me in Mansfield Park:
Of her two sisters, Mrs. Price very much more resembled Lady Bertram than Mrs. Norris. She was a manager by necessity, without any of Mrs. Norris’s inclination for it, or any of her activity. Her disposition was naturally easy and indolent, like Lady Bertram’s; and a situation of similar affluence and do-nothing-ness would have been much more suited to her capacity, than the exertions and self-denials of the one, which her imprudent marriage had placed her in. She might have made just as good a woman of consequence as Lady Bertram, but Mrs. Norris would have been a more respectable mother of nine children, on a small income.

Much of all this, Fanny could not but be sensible of. She might scruple to make use of the words, but she must and did feel that her mother was a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement and discomfort from the beginning to end, and who had no talent, no conversation, no affection towards herself; no curiosity to know her better, no desire of her friendship, and no inclination for her company that could lessen her sense of such feelings.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Closing tabs

Very nice birthday, but tiring! Too weary now to write projected thoughts on midlife....

A link I have been saving to post today.

10 questions I answered in support of tomorrow's midday event at Bryant Park.

An archeology of marginalia.

Good night!

"How to Shake Hands"

David Rees on how to make a how-to show:
Here’s the thing: making a TV show is a great excuse to do things you always wanted to do and never have for whatever time or logistical reasons. We did an episode on how to climb a tree because basically, when I was growing up in North Carolina, there was a huge magnolia tree in the front yard and my parents wouldn’t let me climb it and I always wanted to climb it. I thought, “If I have to climb it as part of a TV show, my parents will have to support that.” Not only did I get to climb that tree, but I also got to go to the Redwood Forest in California, and I had always wanted to go and see these 3,000 year-old Redwoods, which was incredible. Or for “How To Shake Hands,” we got access to cadaver specimens of arms and hands. That was actually really profound because they had cut open the arm and tied strings to all the ligaments so when you pulled the string, you could watch the finger bend over and flex into the palm of the hand. That was obviously very heavy for a lot of reasons.

Worlds of trouble

Alice Goffman's On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City really is extraordinary - a must-read. Now I just have to figure out whether I should buy it for various family members in hardcover or Kindle! The appendix in particular is quite amazing - the last book that had me so close to tears at the end, I think, was Ken Bruen's The Dramatist. It was also interesting finishing just after having read William Wells Brown's also rather amazing novel Clotel; the historical continuities are striking and disturbing, and really I think I need to read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow now too.

Read another very sad book over the weekend, it made me feel mournful enough that I slightly regretted ever having embarked on reading the trilogy in the first place, though they are very good and I really do recommend them - that's Ben Winters' final installment in the series that began with The Last Policeman, World of Trouble.

"One voluptuous delight at a time"

Read Paul Fournel's Need for the Bike last night in one sitting - a gift from my dear friend T.. I loved it - highly recommended.

Here is a representative bit - Fournel is an Oulipo member as well as an avid lifelong cyclist, it is a perfect combination of style and topic (the translator is Allan Stoekl - it's a beautiful little book from the University of Nebraska Press):
For the cyclist there are two types of meals and two types of appetite: during and after.

During the effort, eating is a complex problem. One has to indulge in things that are high-calorie, light, quickly chewed, quickly swallowed, quickly digested. 'Eat before getting hungry,' Paul de Vivie advised, and he was right.

Wanting to do the right thing, and certainly guided by the memory of the contents of the old-time racers' musette bags, riders often set off with a chicken drumstick, a gooey-fruited tart, a leftover bit of steak, a ham sandwich, just to make sure they're not hungry at dinnertime. Hunger exists, but effort conceals it, and the prospect of swallowing a chicken thigh while pedaling up an inviting false flat is enough to make you heave.

There are yet deeper mysteries. I can't think of anything better than chocolate. I eat it upon getting up in the morning and every time I come across it during the day. I like it dark, dry, and hard. But I've never been able to eat a bit of it on the bike. The bike eliminates my taste for chocolate by turning it into a sticky, nauseating goo. No doubt I should see this as a nice lesson in the nonconcurrence of pleasures. One voluptuous delight at a time.

The effect of marzipan is the opposite; I don't like it, but on a bike it's a blessing.

The mounted cyclist is a different person.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


There were multiple factors, I guess, for unusually prolonged radio silence here: the ongoing siren song of Facebook and Twitter, which I like less than blogs but which offer a watered-down version of the same satisfaction for very little effort (they leach my minor thoughts!); the fact that I have been training a lot, which means frequent posts at my other blog; grumpiness about mild boredom accompanying the final push to revisions on my long-overdue article, which I finally sent out at the end of last week (woo-hoo!). I don't like blogging when I'm in low spirits; I prefer to wait for the return of exuberance.

But I am in a good mood again, having a rather glorious time developing the syllabus for my introduction-to-the-English-major class in the fall and only regretting how fast the summer is slipping out of my hands!

I have a letter of recommendation to write today, and on deck a dissertation to read and remarks of some sort to prepare for this event Tuesday (must reread Mansfield Park this weekend!). The syllabus is still going to take quite a bit more work, and I am scaling back expectations for what else I'll be able to get done before I leave for Cayman at the end of the month.

(The four tenure letters are going to get written in Cayman, as they are not dependent on library access, whereas the syllabus really must be done this month, not least because I teach in tandem with seminar leaders who need to have my draft in order to decide what they will add in supplementation.)

Have been out and about quite a bit: saw Elena's Aria Sunday night with friends and had a delicious bite to eat afterwards at Kilo (the most divine meatballs I have ever eaten!); dinner Monday night with friends at the equally sublime and surprisingly affordable Hakata Tonton in the West Village. Those are both restaurants I am keen to go back to.

Light reading around the edges:

I enjoyed the most recent two Laundry novels so much that I went back and reread the first three. I had forgotten that the first volume held both the initial novel and a truly delightful novella (the contrast in tone between the two is appealing). These books are perhaps not for everyone - BUT if you have any mild interest in the intersection of cold-war-era spy fiction, civil service satire, computer programming and the coming of our new squid overlords after the manner of H. P. Lovecraft (i.e. if your fantasy alternate career is "government-employed computational demonologist"!), you will find them absolutely perfect.

Also: Stav Sherez, A Dark Redemption (the Africa material is rather shoehorned in, and I found the twist at the end preposterous, but otherwise really quite good); Karin Slaughter, Cop Town (very good, almost unpleasantly so - a dark and engaging read); Lydia Netzer, How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky (not sure about this one - too much whimsy and metaphysics for my tastes - but she is certainly a remarkable writer); Taylor Stevens, The Catch (I could do with about 50% less of the drama around the main character's past, but in every other respect I love these books - only thing that approximates the pleasure of a new Jack Reacher novel!); and a novella by Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant, The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell. I love these books of hers, and I am also keen on the trend whereby electronic publishing lets prolific authors publish interim installments without having to work up the energy for a whole new novel-sized chunk.

Also picked up used copies on the street of a couple favorite books of childhood, the first of which is as good as I remember: Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth.

All right - now that I've cleared my need for ritual procrastination, I really am going to write that letter!

Twitter tabs

Twitter isn't so much a closed space as Facebook, but I've been trying to be a little more active there (book promotional purposes) and I find myself too often just retweeting a good link instead of more usefully for my own purposes sharing and archiving it here! One great thing about blogging is that it makes for such a consistent archive - these other more tailored proprietary formats (especially Facebook) are much less suited to that purpose....

Anyway, some funny bits I've had on my Twitter feed:

Also: Will Amazon provide a Netflix-type service for books? (Via Sarah W. NB this will do me no good if a lot of books are excluded....)

"I made my husband try a sex robot."

Book recommendations from Stephen King.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The best days of my life

are days of lavish and promiscuous library usage. Will go back again later for as many more books as I can carry.

People that books built

Zadie Smith on life as a pathological reader.

Tizer in the piano

A lovely bit about P. N. Furbank:
A story we haven’t quite corroborated – and which is remembered through a haze of neat gin, served alongside the sherry on little drink stands however early the hour of calling – involved Turing setting up a maths-based treasure hunt across Cambridge for Furbank and Forster to solve. The final clue depended on an electrical current being run through Forster’s piano, which Turing had filled with tizer. Another friend at the table asked whether Forster played the piano well, and Furbank said he did.
This is the kind of writer and scholar I aspire to be - in fact, shortly I think I might go to the library and check out some of his books....

Blank slates

John Gray on Michael Oakeshott:
Whether Oakeshott produced anything like a coherent system of ideas is doubtful. He disparaged ideology and favoured a return to practice and tradition. But as the French reactionary Joseph de Maistre discovered when, at the start of the 19th century, he visited Russia hoping to find a people that had not been 'scribbled on' by rationalistic philosophes, only to discover a country besotted with the Enlightenment, there is no uncorrupted text to which to return: the life of practice is a palimpsest of modish and forgotten theories.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Heel-dragging morning update

It is taking me a ridiculously long time this morning to get out the door for my run, the run I should have done yesterday but didn't get it together to do then at all! It is still grotesquely humid, but much cooler than yesterday, so that's something....

The fourth of July makes me grumpy, from a strictly personal point of view - the library is closed, and there is less interesting news than usual on the USian part of the internet. On the bright side, as it is a holiday I feel justified in blowing a large chunk of morning and midday on exercise - will hope to get in a few good hours of work on the wretched article revisions (which are enjoyable now that I am actually immersed in them, only I am waiting on some BorrowDirect sources that are delayed because of the holiday!) later on in the afternoon.

A few tabs to close:

King Lear with sheep! (Via John Kuhn. Amazingly reminds me of the exhilarating brief moment when I thought the Clydesdale Hamlet at Busch Gardens was going to feature a production of Hamlet performed by gigantic drayhorses - it was one of those fantastical glitches. Ditto, in a weaker version, my onetime quest for the Penguin Euripides....)

The reading habits of tennis players.

Jordan Ellenberg on the summer's most unread books as glimpsed by Kindle highlights.

A really nice piece by Mark Halliday on Kenneth Koch.

The Yale Digital Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson! I have something exciting coming up next year, by the way: I need to write a really good talk for this (it is going to be a good chance to delve into my battle-of-ancients-and-moderns project, which I think I haven't yet written about here as I am trying to stay focused on the still-unwritten Ten-Week Clarissa proposal - Johnson is not directly in that one, but the question of textual editing and commentary looms large throughout, thus Spinoza and other recent dipping into Grafton on Poliziano etc.)....

(Also excited that I have two rewarding minor work trips coming up in the fall - I like the feeling that my career is enabling me to have interesting travel experiences I wouldn't have otherwise: Dublin, for this year's edition of the Swift symposium conducted at the Deanery of St. Patrick's Cathedral; and Paris, in December, for a dissertation defense. I am excited about the latter for various reasons, one of which is that I will finally be able to go and get a cupcake at a bakery I have long admired from afar!)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

"The Thames is a phenomenal freeing of the mind anyway"

This one's from early June, but it's taken me a while to get around to reading and posting it: Tim Burrows interviews Iain Sinclair. Lots of interesting stuff here, including some reflections on the problems of archiving authors' hard drives in special collections:
I remembered the one next to mine was Norman Mailer's. It was so old and clapped out. They had actually got this young woman who was the first person to be appointed, because it had never arisen before. I think Salman Rushdie was one of the first who had sold a hard drive to them. It really hadn't occurred to people to actually start acquiring these. And equally, people might be nervous of selling them because it might have all kinds of personal information, who knows what. The one I had only used for writing books on and stuff – apart from that it probably had my kids' homework on. Now people are much more conscious than that. There will be experts who will be accumulating electronic files and materials. Just imagine the sheer quantity of email exchanges that goes on. How will you ever sift through all that? I'm sure they will, but… Traditionally the estate of James Joyce or whatever always publish the author's letters at a certain point. Imagine the same information now, but through someone's emails. It will just be gigantic. What will you do? Would you sift through all that and try and extract a version that is worth publishing as a book, or will you let people roam through the whole thing? It's completely changed, obviously, and we are only at the very beginning of it, and it's happening so fast it is quite extraordinary.

Closing tabs

Tiny books of the Bronte children: digital facsimiles here. These are so amazing (I think the link came via Becca?)....


The Lawn Road Flats chronicled (truth is sometimes more interesting than fiction!).

Jim Holt on the conundrum of personal identity.

Abandoned settlements of the far north. (Via Anna.)