Friday, January 27, 2012

Photos of the Hotel and Schatzalps in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain

These photos were taken in 2008 by my friend Neils Herold.  The painting below is mentioned in the novel.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

For Idiosyncratic Reading

This is an autobiographical  brief on behalf of the academic as autodidact.  Since I was an undergraduate English Major, literary criticism has been defined as a certain practice of reading: close (as opposed to far--the New Critics); professional (as opposed to amateur--Said, Fish, Garber); competent (as opposed to incompetent--J. Culler, Structuralist Poetics; Roger Chartier), and technical versus thematic (De Man); slow versus fast (Brower; Garber); intensive (Deleuze); and rigorous (as opposed to flaccid--Guillory).   Neil Hertz was one of the few, perhaps the only critic to ask what reading involved, where to draw the line, what was a reading took far, and what was a reading that permitted itself to stop.  De Man's technical reading practice was written off as a new formalism in the late 1980s (forgetting that de Man had written an essay entitled "Return to Philology" and his colleague G. Hartman had written book entitled Beyond Formalism), and the various returns of formalism in the past decade have been concerned to accommodate historicism, not deconstruction.   I had the good fortune to meet De Man, hear Derrida and Foucault lecture and be taught by brilliant close readers of literature as an undergrad (Greenblatt, Booth) and grad school (Michaels, Fish, Booth, Adelman) and, in the last eight and a half years the opportunity to teach whatever I want however I want to do.  I have followed out a kind of Hertzian and Ronellian trajectory with respect to De Man,  understanding technical readings to be subject to break down, as all technologies (writing machines) are.  I have been able to learn by doing, teaching courses on literature of historical periods in which I have published zip and taught  literature and philosophy in translation and written originally in languages in which I am "technically" semi-competent.  I can read only read, in Schiller's terms, as a sentimental as opposed to naive reader.  Even if I watch a bad action film, I pay attention to the editing, lighting, etc.  I cannot watch a film like Jams Cameron's Avatar because I think every shot is formally atrocious.  When I read a novel I've known about since I was 18 but still have never read, like The Magic Mountain, I may start reading without a pencil, but by 20 pages in, I've picked up the pencil and started taking notes.  My "professional" reading habits take hold as I erin to appreciate how interesting the work of literature is.  My increasingly idiosyncratic departures allow me to random access read the novel.  So I read the gramophone chapter first, then the one on seances after it first.   Then I read about the first 60 pages.  Then I read the X-ray chapter.  Then I went back to the gramophone chapter and saw that it explicitly recalls the X-Ray chapter. Now I am reading the novel in a traditional linear fashion though I keep rereading parts I've already read as I've started taking notes.  I end up going to the library (on campus and online) researching areas I find interesting.  I can get up to speed fairly quickly (learn the history of criticism on a given work and writer), though I read literature and philosophy both because I have always wanted to read it and the thanatological clock is ticking and because theorists and philosophers I admire like De Man, Derrida, Heidegger, Ronell, Rickels, and Kittler can't be read without reading what they have written about.  I have nothing against the notion of a canon or of literary history.  I just feel free to wander off from my "professional" field as I respond to call of hospitable academics who sometimes work outside their field.  I just wish tenure meant one could be free to do peripatetic criticism, if they wish, as I am free to do at UF.    

Why are tenured academics against academic freedom? For/ced Faculty Development

This will be a post about my utopian proposal allowing academics with tenure to move as easily as possible into other fields of study.  I am talking only about Literature Departments.  In my experience, tenure means death for 80 percent or more of the profession.  You just keep on what you've been doing and try to police "the field"and how other faculty in your Department teach what they teach.  Everyone is supposed to stay were the were when they were hired.  Some people train themselves and move from one field (say, Joyce) to another (say American lit). But the notion of fields remains intact.  What if the American system were to become more like the German? In Germany, you dissertation and you Habilitationsschrift have to be in two different fields on completely different topics.  When I say "more like," I mean that that tenured faculty could be encouraged to train themselves in new areas of study, including already established fields. After writing a second book, you would get a year off and, in addition to your raise, a 15-20k grant to develop two different,  new upper division courses in fields other than those you have already taught and published on.  All you would have to do is produce a research bibliography, attend the annal conference in the field, and teach the new courses.  The assumption is that even advanced faculty (in rank and in years of age) need to keep developing and deserve support (time off and cash) as much as do untenured faculty.  Freedom is inseparable from force.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Are textual critics more literary than the literature they edit?

Gallimard published a very handsome, very readable edition of Proust's Carnets or notebooks, in 2002.  The ink on the page is darker than average and the font is clear and fairly large.  But the text itself is unreadable, perhaps even an allegory of unreadability, even though it presents itself as genetic criticism.  The book is divided up into four sections, each devoted to one of Proust's four notebooks and each introduced by an editor who also provides footnotes to the chapter.  But the text of Prout's notes includes many sections with strike throughs in large swaths and notes that cross-reference a line or passage with a novel of Al la recherche.  One has to ask:  how does one "use" this rather Borgesian (linear yet labyrinthine) book?  As a research "tool" it seems not to work very well since the notes do not fit into a genetic narrative of literary production:  notes, first draft, published work.  But read as a work of art, the edition of the notebook becomes really interesting.  Proust's pages in print form start to look like French modern (20th ct) poetry that  defines its poetics against the order of genetic criticism, progressively producing "finished" literature to a rougher and rougher draft  of the poem that would have been, if finished, published.  Facsimile editions are even more radically unreadable works of art in that they convert text into image.  Next time: how genetic criticism defaults both to metaphors of birth and of death (skeleton).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Can "Proust" write? Or, Proust's Invalid/ation of Literature

Teaser for the post to come:
From his publisher Gallimard we know that Proust's proofreading habits were the despair of typesetters.  The galleys went back covered with marginal notes, but not a single misprint had been corrected; all available space had been used for fresh text.
--Walter Benjamin, "The Image of Proust," in Illuminations. Trans Harry Zohn, 202.

From his publisher Gallimard we know that Proust's proofreading habits were the despair of typesetters.  The galleys always came back covered with writing to the end of the page, but not a single misprint had been corrected; all available space had been used for fresh text.
--Walter Benjamin, "On the Image of Proust," in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 2, 1917-1934 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999], p. 238).

Can Marcel read?

In his wonderful essay “The Image of Proust,” Walter Benjamin observes that A la Recherche du temps perdu is really about forgetting, involuntary memory, not memory:
We know that in his work Proust described a life not as it actually was [wies gewesen ist] but a life as it was remembered by the one who had lived it.  Yet even this statement is imprecise and far too crude. For the important thing to the remembering author is not what he experienced, but the weaving of his memory, the Penelope work of recollection [Eingedenken].  Or should one call it, rather, a Penelope work of forgetting?  Is not the involuntary recollection, Proust’s mémoire involuntaire, much closer to forgetting than what is usually called memory?  And is not this work of spontaneous recollection, in which remembrance is the woof and forgetting the warp, a counterpart to Penelope’s work rather than its likeness?  For here the day unravels what the night has woven. (“On the Image of Proust,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 2, 1917-1934 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999], p. 238).
The famous madeleine episode in Swann’s Way remains central to Benjamin’s essay, (246), as it does to De Man's chapter on Proust in Allegories of Reading, who returns to it after first discussing what he takes to be the novel's scene of reading (while keeping in question whether reading any passage allows you to reduce it to a themebut instead is what the novel is about, that is, an allegory of the impossibility of reading).  What happens to the madeleine episode's presumed centrality, however, if we attend to other scenes of reading in the novel, scenes that Benjamin and De Man to have forgotten?  Consider the scene of reading on the first page of Swann's Way. The unnamed narrator falls asleep while reading a book:
For a long time, I went to bed early.  Sometimes, my candle out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: “I’m falling asleep.”  And, half an hour later, the thought that it was time to try to sleep would wake me; I wanted to put the book I thought I had in my hands and blow out the light; I had not ceased while sleeping to form reflections on what I had just read, but these reflections had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was what the book was talking about: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between François and Charles V. (3)
A la Recherche begins with in a recurrent and occasional scene of reading in bed in which the  “sometimes ” falls asleep.  But it is a scene of not reading that precedes a scene of involuntary memory in which the book Proust can’t remember:  he wants to book down has already fallen off his bed. Moreover, reading does not end when sleep begins; reading rather takes a different form. If reading is the resistance to reading, to paraphrase De Man, then we might say that for Proust  “not reading” means falling asleep and writing about it in such a way that readers, it would appear, don't even know they are reading about "not reading."  

   Well before the madeleine episode, there is more about dozing off while not reading (please forgive the ellipses):
A sleeping man holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads . . . If toward morning, after a bout of insomnia, sleep overcomes him as he is reading, in a position quite different from the one in which he usually sleeps . . . If he dozes off in a position still more displaced and divergent, after dinner sitting in an armchair for instance, then among the disordered worlds will be complete, the magic armchair will send him traveling at top speed through time and space, and, at the moment of opening his eyelids, he will believe he went several month earlier in another  country. (5)
In my next post, “Can Proust Write?” I will discuss some scenes in which reading is a productive disability for Marcel and writing a disability for Proust.  (I don’t mean that books are soporifics for Proust.)  
In the meantime, let me put my copy of Proust down and ruminate on how reading Proust reading might helps us understand academic reading practices better.  We should not be surprised to hear from the now former MLA President a few years ago that we are not reading enough of each other's books. One of the first things one learns to do in graduate school is distinguish between MUST read for professional reasons and HAVE PERMISSION TO IGNORE.   The percentage of must read is of course relatively small.  We may not be surprised that academic conventions mainly function to let people know that what they fear they MUST READ they can actually IGNORE.  It's kind of like reading a book review. Your reviewer has read the book under review to spare you the trouble of reading it yourself.  In the slumber of academic reading, someone else does the reading you are disabled from doing, much like a TV laugh track does your laughing so you don't have to do.  You get to put your brain  on sleep mode.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Complete but smaller

Did you know that Gilles Deleuze's Proust and Signs: The Complete Text (200) is about half the size (physically) of the original edition (1972)? I bought the original my freshman year from Moe's Books on Telegraph Ave.  Deleuze was really good on literature.


After reading about the yet to be unnamed narrator, Marcel, talk about falling asleep while reading or reading but daydreaming in Swann's Way yesterday, I reread Derrida's essay "Telepathy" on Freud deliberately hypnotizing (putting asleep) his readers / lecture audience in Freud's "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy." 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The most interesting I've learned from reading In Search of Lost Time (in reverse, starting with Finding Time Again) is that Proust's maid referred to his manuscripts as "manuscribbles." He also wrote on"paperoles." (She wrote a book about it herself entitled Monsieur Proust.) Today I went to the library and checked out the Pleiades edition and the Laffont edition. Both have variants, "notices," and appendices that have dropped out of the new Penguin translations. Le Temps perdu du temps perdu en traduire, peut-etre? As I re/read and recerche Proust I will be posting some comments from time to Time.