Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The writing on the wall

I had fun last night lecturing on Beckett and Adorno: I was having slight qualms about having assigned such a difficult piece, but I think it was worthwhile (you never up your intellectual game if you don't read the really hard stuff sometimes, and it is in my view a genuinely revelatory essay - here's the JSTOR link for "Trying to Understand Endgame" though I'm not sure if that's gated for Columbia users only).

Here's a bit I really like (in an effort to get across the true force of Adorno's point, I was elsewhere in lecture describing the disgusting stretch of track where you wait for the front car of the uptown 1 train at 14th St. - I am not sure why, but it is always full of the most revolting detritus, all sorts of trash in several inches of water - it prompts me to think how glad I am it is not my job to clean it up):
What becomes of the absurd, after the characters of the meaning of existence have been torn down, is no longer a universal--the absurd would then be yet again an idea--but only pathetic details which ridicule conceptuality, a stratum of utensils as in an emergency refuge: ice boxes, lameness, blindness, and unappetizing bodily functions. Everything awaits evacuation.
Next year I really will have to put "The Waste Land" on the syllabus as I am so often alluding to it: will move around "The Death of the Author" and "The Intentional Fallacy" to put with it, and will probably also add "Tradition and the Individual Talent" somewhere although that would be too many different things for one week of class....

Bonus link: most enjoyable Wikipedia entry I came across while checking out a few of the allusions in the Endgame passage I worked through in class (I really had no idea it was a dog biscuit!): "Spratt's medium"!

Also: mene mene! I have a probably annoying habit of asking students to gloss things that might be worthwhile to pursue (the meaning of a word, the substance of an allusion), and it is often difficult to tell in a big lecture course whether it's that students know the answer but are shy about uttering it or whether they genuinely don't know and I should go ahead and say it. I was surprised that "mene mene" and the Rembrandt painting of the scene were not more widely familiar. But it is also clear to me that it's not just that I delve most deeply into things because I am the professor and responsible for the material (it is incumbent on you if you're teaching properly to have really done your utmost to have pursued details in passages you're actually actively reading in class), but that what one editor I worked with a long time ago called my "terrier-like" inability not to try and get to the bottom of things is a good part of the reason that I am a professor in the first place!

(It is idle curiosity, often, but especially given the thematic connection of biscuits, I was reminded of the "empire biscuit" internet rabbit hole I went down after seeing Brave with B. and wondering what exactly those iced biscuits with glace cherries on top actually were. I must confess to having a minor obsession with biscuits. Hmmm, biscuits in literature: that is what I should write for the editor I'd like to work with but have been too busy to think of anything for....)

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate the holiday. I had a funny conversation at the doctor's office the other day with the very nice young man who works at the front desk: he said that a well-intentioned but possibly misguided adult had given a dismaying lecture about Thanksgiving as holiday of genocide to his twin five-year-old nieces, and that while he agreed with the substance of the critique, he thought they were really too young to be given much beyond the fantastical story of Pilgrims and Indians joining together to celebrate....

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