Tag Archives: Semi-organized Thoughts

Literary Depression

In my last post, I talked a bit about Matt Haig’s literature-heavy antidote to depression, and mentioned that his own book had helped me immensely during some of my most despairing moments. That was true.

I also said that reading a book tipped me into the first quasi-depressive episode I ever experienced. That was true, as well.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that contradiction, lately. I think that Haig is right when he says that reading is a pathway out of ourselves, and out of minds that are turning on us. But I also think that that outward journey can have devastating effects when we crash back into ourselves too suddenly. Continue reading

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Jerry A. Coyne’s New Republic Piece, and Why Science Professors Should Stick to Science

In a recent article posted to both his blog and The New Republic, University of Chicago professor Jerry A. Coyne finds himself reluctantly siding with conservatives over the proposed use of “trigger warnings” in literature classes. Life is triggering he says, and literature prepares you for that.

Thank heavens we have a science professor to tell us how to teach literature, right?

Or, rather, what to teach (the canon, as well as newly canonical, formerly marginalized women, blacks, LGBT individuals, etc.). The how, though, is somewhat lacking. Coyne tells us that literature is meant to challenge us and expand our minds, which sounds excellent, right up until the moment you realize he doesn’t really mean anything by that. Continue reading

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Money, Money, Money, Money (and Novels)

Merry Christmas! In honor of the brazen (if unusually honest) Western Union commercial proclaiming money “king” this holiday season, let’s talk about money.

If someone asked me to name a novel that’s largely about money, my first thought would probably be Our Mutual Friend. According to Thomas Piketty—economist and author of the wildly popular Capital in the Twenty-First Century—that’s not just because I’ve read too much Victorian fiction. As a recent Slate article helpfully notes for those of us who just can’t stomach 700 pages of economics, even for a good cause, Piketty argues that in the early 20th century, novels became increasingly less interested in money as money itself ceased to be a “stable reference point” following massive inflation and a temporary reduction in wealth inequality. If I might risk paraphrasing Slate’s paraphrase (always a dangerous proposition): Earlier references to money in literature were a way of ordering the world in knowable ways, so when money itself became a slipperier signifier, it ceased to have the same value (har har) for authors. Continue reading

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Quick Thoughts on Mockingjay – Part 1: Rebellion, Propaganda, and Metafiction

Please Note: The following post contains some spoilers for both Mockingjay – Part 1 and the Hunger Games series as a whole, so read at your own discretion.

Right up until last week’s premiere, I was concerned that Mockingjay would be the stumbling block when it came to adapting the Hunger Games trilogy. No, I do not count myself amongst the readers who grew exasperated with the final installment’s unrelenting grimness; if anything, Suzanne Collins earned my undying respect by painting such a plausibly—if dishearteningly—bleak portrait of a revolution (let’s not forget how frequently real revolutions die out, are hijacked, or result in a regime even worse than the one that preceded it). My concern therefore had less to do with Mockingjay’s tone or subject matter than it did with its structure. In both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the Games themselves function as a kind of narrative scaffolding; they carry with them their own climaxes and conclusions and, at least in Catching Fire, are the linchpin in the plans of both the Capitol and the insurgency. Mockingjay lacks this obvious structuring device, and in the added absence of the coherence provided by Katniss’s first-person narration, the movie seemed likely to falter. Continue reading

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Fingersmith, or: The Most Victorian Novel Ever Was Written in 2002

Regrettably, this will be a fairly short (and very informal) post; I have to return my copy of Fingersmith to the library, so I don’t have time to mine it for the quotes that would allow me to talk about it in more detail. I also haven’t quite decided whether the title of this post is misleading—whether Fingersmith really is a true-blue Victorian novel (just with a queer twist), or whether its use of so many quintessentially Victorian tropes and plot devices somehow makes it even more postmodern than, say, The French Lieutenant’s Woman or Possession (two other wonderful 20th/21st-century spins on 19th-century literature). Either way, though, it’s a fascinating book. Continue reading

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Twists and Turns

It’s strange which moments stick with you. I don’t typically remember my first viewing of a movie unless it becomes an instant favorite, but I do remember, quite distinctly, the first time I saw Jane Eyre. It was the 1943 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, I was probably seven or eight years old, and I was watching it with my mom. Or rather, my mom was watching it while I was in the room; I don’t recall being particularly interested in it myself, since I had no taste as a child. Maybe I was paying more attention than I remember, though, or maybe the foreshadowing is simply too obvious to miss (admittedly, it’s been several years since I saw that version). It’s even possible that at some prior point in my life, I had heard something somewhere about Jane Eyre that had, for whatever obscure reason, lodged itself in my unconscious. Whatever the reason, at one point fairly early in the movie, I turned to my mom and asked—much to her surprise—whether Mr. Rochester’s secret had anything to do with a hidden first wife. Continue reading

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Dickens’ Woman Problem?

I have a confession: I’m a feminist, and I love Dickens.

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure which part of that sentence is supposed to constitute the real admission, since God knows people hate the word “feminist.” That said, I’ve met several women who are quick to write off Dickens’ entire oeuvre as patriarchal nonsense, and it pains me a little. Because while I don’t especially want to linger on Dickens’ private life—frankly, it’s not pretty—I think he often gets a bad rap where his novels themselves are concerned.
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Audience, Historical Context, and the Future Library Project

The list of writers whose work achieved widespread recognition only posthumously is impressive: Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, and Zora Neale Hurston, to name a few. There’s a piquant poignancy to stories such as these; events may have conspired against these authors while they were alive, but now, at least, we appreciate their genius—a genius, moreover, that continues to resonate decades and even centuries later.

The Future Library project—the brainchild of artist Katie Patterson—changes the formula entirely. Continue reading

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The TExES Content Exam Doesn’t Care About Content: A Rant

As I offhandedly mentioned in an earlier post, I’m currently working on becoming a certified teacher. For a variety of reasons, my desire to work in a public school is somewhere in the negative thousands, but it’s my earnest hope that the experience of student teaching, combined with a graduate degree in my field, will land me a job at a private school. In the meantime, though, I’m studying for the TExES exam in secondary English. In theory, these exams are designed to ensure that first-year teachers have the “content knowledge” required to succeed in the classroom.

It’s probably a measure of my naiveté that, when I first heard about these tests, I assumed that “content knowledge” meant “content knowledge”—as in, knowledge of a field of study. Of course, it rankled a bit that two degrees in English did not constitute sufficient proof of my content knowledge, but since we do love our standardized tests in America, I was hardly surprised. I was also generally sanguine about the test; I did well on the GRE subject test in literature, so I thought that this test would be no problem at all.

I was in for two rude wake-up calls. Continue reading

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The (No Doubt) Much-Anticipated Follow-Up on Boy, Snow, Bird

If you’re at all interested in film studies, gender studies, or both, I highly recommend taking a glance at Jack Halberstam’s article on The Silence of the Lambs. In the meantime, though, I’ll do my best to cut through the critical language and offer a (no doubt oversimplified) synopsis. “Skinflick” was written in part as a rebuttal to accusations of transphobia in The Silence of the Lambs’s depiction of Buffalo Bill. Halberstam argues that Buffalo Bill should not be read as transgendered, but rather as a kind of critique of the very notion of gender (or identity) as stable, internal, and unified:

Buffalo Bill kills for his clothes and emblematizes the ways in which gender is always posthuman, always a sewing job that stitches identity into a body bag. Skin, in this film, is identity itself rather than the surface of an interior identity. Buffalo Bill, in other words, is a limit case for gender, for identity, for humanness. He does not understand gender as inherent, innate; he reads it only as a surface effect, a representation, an external attribute engineered into identity (176)

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