Archive for November, 2007

Leaving the scavengers

Studying literature at a place like Harvard makes a contradictory impression: on the one hand, everyone is secretly proud of themselves for fighting their way to the top of the little academic mound they’ve chosen as their target, even if they would never be so vulgar as to say so and even if for reasons about which they’re honestly unclear; at the same time, there’s something unmistakably secondary about the role of someone that earns a living from commenting on literature. The old notion of critics’ materials being books and writers’ materials being life is too simplistic by half, but holds an underlying truth; even when writers are pillaging each other’s works shamelessly they generally take care to conceal the theft, or at least that concealment is often intrinsic to the nature of literature. And even when they hardly bother, like T.S. Eliot, the work still somehow transcends this fact; for critics this almost never works. You might claim that the values of our culture are all backwards for demoting the value of the interpreter and the commentator in favor of the “originator” and the declaimer, assuming this even halfway-accurately describes the relationship between critic and writer, but at any rate that’s the way it is, and personally I can’t accept the back-seat role even if it means job security from now to senility, and if that means exiling myself from academia at the exact moment that everyone around me seems to have signed themselves over to it then so be it.

It’s a funny thing, though, this cultural mythology of the writer as some sort of primal creating agent. At the height of the Romantic vogue in the 19th century, when every writer who could afford a black frock-coat and a couple of inappropriate affairs was proclaiming themselves to be a totally unique, individual creative mind, untrammeled by social convention or cultural influence, damned if the images and poses of themselves that they promoted didn’t all seem to look alike: same long hair blowing in the wind, same waterfalls or cliffs to brood over, same rhapsodizing about birds and flowers.

Maybe the same goes for women. For all the talk down the ages about love is a totally singular, unique affinity between souls, I have to say quite honestly I’ve never yet had a girlfriend or other love-interest that didn’t leave me still dreaming of finding one more beautiful or kind-hearted or interesting. You might say I just haven’t met “the One” yet, but then again evangelical Christians say the same thing to us infidels about God. Maybe the one will lead me to the other, as in The Divine Comedy. Or maybe this whole idea of total exclusivity in love is partly to blame, as in the Chinese equivalent for “the grass is always greener on the other side,” which goes (or so at any rate I’ve heard): “everyone else’s wife is more beautiful.” And really, how do you think it would affect your relationship with your best friend if you knew that having them as a friend automatically precluded having any other friends? Well, that’s life. The problem with aspiration as a condition is that, like a sign pointing up, it’s always relative. Once you’ve climbed some height there’s always more.

links for 2007-11-08

  • “[T]he only companies that join consortia are the ones who are too stupid or shitty to make a great product on their own. It’s like, Hey, we’ve got forty spazzo companies that can’t fuck their way out of a paper bag; let’s put them all together and maybe they’ll magically become some kind of big bad powerhouse.”

links for 2007-11-06