taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Saturday, February 01, 2003

I just started this lit crit class and let me tell you, I don't think I'm prepared for this much close reading. The professor is one of those endearing types who believes that all possible meaning is in the text, and every time you ascribe symbolic meaning insists that you anchor it to some word or another. All well and good, I suppose, if you care deeply about academic integrity--but if instead you really care about having strongly held, controversial, and mostly baseless opinions, it's not so fun. For instance, Wordsworth sucks. Do I really have to explain why? And James Joyce, though he doesn't suck, simply doesn't deserve the time it takes for a close reading--he's far too boring.

Really, it's the writer's job to entertain and enlighten me. Novels can go ahead and be deep and ambiguous if it works with the narrative, but it shouldn't be intolerable to read them. Sometimes novels are described as "difficult", which I think is a critical codeword for "important", but I have to tell you that after 50 pages of DeLillo's "Underworld", I felt only that I'd helped old Don jack off for a while. It was difficult in the same way that working in a massage parlor must be difficult--too much intimacy, too little reward.

When I first learned to read, novels were revelations, experiences. The good ones still are. It doesn't matter if they're important novels, because my experience of them is transcendant. I don't read for status any more--every time I try that, I sell a little more of my soul. Of course, I could change my mind about all this after three months of Barthes. We'll see how self-referential I get from sheer osmosis.


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