Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Breathe as you write...

Amos Oz told me, "Breathe as you write and write as you breathe." I myself remember writing in this very blog about fiction as a shotgun house: you must walk all the way through one room before you can enter the next. Yet I forget this advice, over and over--I take shortcuts through the rooms, dive out the window, holding my breath or taking it in shallow gulps. I reread what I've written months or weeks ago and it's rushed and empty. My favorite writer is Yuri Olesha because of his details: a boy with close-shaved blond hair whose head shines like a bowl of chicken broth. Why not learn from him, even copy his style if not his substance? Why not stop and look around? I'm so afraid of not grabbing the reader, not getting to the point in the first paragraph, the first sentence--but it's speed itself that is boring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Prolonged containment

From Peta Tait, Performing Emotions: Gender, bodies, spaces in Chekhov's drama and Stanislavski's theatre, p. 90:

What is this inner realm and truth in acting emotions attributed to Stanislavski's work? Following in the tradition of Diderot and Talma, Stanislavski developed an understanding of how the performer could apply his or her experience of emotions to a role (Roach 1985: 197). As Catherine Schuler points out, however, Stanislavski's approach should also be framed within a well-established Russian distinction between "inspired" and "scientific" (or systematic) naturalism in a search for truth in acting, and was evident in the work of leading female performers (2000: 499). Stanislavski's systematic acting style involved "self control, concealment of emotions under a mask of outward composure, and the full exposure of hidden passions at the moment of highest dramatic tension" (Balukhaty 1952:35). The prolonged containment of emotions brings about an intensification in the build-up towards their climactic expression.
Sounds like the structure of the contemporary American short story.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sontag on photography

The powers of photography have in effect de-Platonized our understanding of reality, making it less and less plausible to reflect upon our experience according to the distinction between images and things, between copies and originals. . . [T]he force of photographic images comes from their being material realities in their own right, richly informative deposits left in the wake of whatever emitted them, potent means of turning the tables on reality--for turning it into a shadow (Susan Sontag, On Photography).

This seems true, but I wonder if it's true for people younger than I am. Sontag speaks of the feeling that photography is "magic," even for highly educated sorts who know better, because it is more than a copy: it is is a trace of the actual subject photographed. She mentions Delacroix's notes in 1850 about astronomical daguerrotypes, where he points out that the light left the star in the photograph before the process for capturing it had been invented. She doesn't quite make the leap to the photograph, as a trace, being like starlight: if the photo is a physical trace of the past--of the subject in the past--then it has the uncanniness of starlight. The past projects itself into the present. But maybe no one sees photographs that way anymore.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Buddhism teaches us to let go of our attachment, that is, our clinging. I wonder what various Dharma teachers would think of my problem, which is believing that things are alive. I think I've written about this before, but I just got a new laptop, and am feeling so terrible toward my old laptop even as I delight in the relative ease (and silence!!) of my new one. I wonder if the more I handle an object, the more alive it seems. A laptop in particular is something I communicate with--"with" properly meaning "via," but actually meaning "to," phenomenologically... It seems to have life because I hold it and talk to (with) it. So how do I tell it thank you, it's been great, but your time is past? Is this clinging, some kind of residual animism in my brain, or garden-variety mental illness?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Whither literary Darwinism?

Is anything happening with literary Darwinism? Do I need to pay attention to this likely-to-remain-small movement in literary studies? The paramecium-ancestor (to speak evolutionarily) of my upcoming class, Imitation of Life, was actually Joseph Carroll's reading of Jane Austen as a record of mating behaviors. Yet the article has yet to work itself into my syllabus. I think there are two reasons why: it's still depressing to me to think about literature this way, despite the fact that I believe in evolution, believe we must promote the teaching of evolution everywhere, and think evolution itself is interesting (and not depressing). But such a reading takes the feel--the whimsy and the fancy--out of reading entirely. Some might say this is a good thing, given where critical whimsy sometimes takes us (see SocialText, etc.). Second: to do this criticism properly, you really need to be a proper scientist. It's hard enough to get one PhD, let alone two or more; but you really can't BS (that's bullshit, as well as Bachelor of Science) your way through a sophisticated scientific reading. So, collaboration might be necessary, but few humanists want to do that.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Not ready

The plum tree outside our living room window is in full bloom, white blossoms like popcorn. It was just a few months ago that all last year's leaves finally blew off. They were very tenacious, those leaves, and when they finally let go it meant it really was winter. But the white blossoms don't give me spring fever as they usually would. I'm not ready to ramp up for warm weather and sun and daylight saving time. The whole renewal business seems kind of absurd.