Tuesday, August 21, 2007

James Tiptree Jr.

I just finished James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips. I highly recommend it. Sheldon was a woman who used not only the pen-name of Tiptree but created a separate male identity through which she befriended a great number of fellow writers, notably Ursula Le Guin. Her (his) fiction won Hugo and Nebula awards, and Harlan Ellison, William Gibson, and many others raved about her (his) work. Once the secret was discovered--that Tiptree was a sixtyish female--the community generally accepted and welcomed her. But her self-hatred as an "old woman" seemed to interfere with her writing from then on. Sheldon was a feminist who was born too early, and she was depressed as well as defiant her whole life. She ended up shooting her husband and herself to death when she was 71.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Terry Eagleton on student lit crit

On students' readings of poetry these days:
They give accounts of works of literature which describe what is going on in them, perhaps with a few evaluative comments thrown in. To adapt a technical distinction from linguistics, they treat the poem as language but not as discourse. "Discourse"... means attending to language in all of its material density, whereas most approaches to poetic language tend to disembody it....It would be hard to figure out, just be reading most of these content analyses, that they were supposed to be about poems or novels rather than about some real-life happening. What gets left out is the literariness of the work... [T]hey treat the poem as though its author chose for some eccentric reason to write out his or her views on warfare or sexuality in lines which do not reach to the end of the page. Maybe the computer got stuck. (From How to Read a Poem, quoted by Marjorie Perloff in "It Must Stop," the 2006 MLA Presidential Address.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Culture wars and real ones

It's hard to believe that 14 years ago (14 in academy years=1 human year), a sentence like this could appear in a journal article: "No longer in the postwar period the sole intellectual and economic center of the world, Europe continues to be seen by the American Right as the primary source of culture and cultural legitimation." I almost fell out of my chair, but read on to realize that the author, Katie Trumpener, was talking about the culture wars of the 80s and 90s. The "Right" comprised the defenders of the Eurocentric Great Books curriculum that was under attack by multiculturalists. In 1993, apparently, the American Right's feminization of Europe had not taken hold--or at least went unnoticed among humanities faculties. I'm wondering how much of the "Europe is faggy" meme is a direct result of the run-up to war in Iraq.

Imagine any right-winger now espousing the greatness of European thought, past or present. Europe is our enemy, femmy and godless besides. Even the Enlightenment has to go under the bus because it promotes rational thought. Can't have that. Darwin? A satanist. What I wouldn't give for the wingers to go back to reading T.S. Eliot, if they ever did. But "The Wasteland" is full of Hinduism. (See Trumpener, "The Shape of the Moment and the Struggle for the Text" in Modern Philology 100:3 [February 1993].)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Good Company

Queen's "Good Company" has been stuck in my head for the past three weeks, after I heard it on the radio in my physical therapist's office. I don't think I've ever heard "Good Company" on the radio before. It was not a hit. It is the pleasant but mercifully brief song before "Bohemian Rhapsody" on A Night at the Opera, to which one nodded and smiled, both to acknowledge that Brian May was playing the ukulele and in anticipation of what was coming next.

Although I am quite charmed by the tricky little rhyme of "the girl from number four" with "evermore," this really must stop now.

This is Brian May's fault.

Friday, August 03, 2007