Don’t fence me in

I ran out of Duras books so I moved on to Magdalena Tulli, a contemporary Polish author whose novels I love. She really makes me think, though, so it’s slow-going… I can only read 5-10 pages before I have to put the book down and think about all the ways it’s so new to me. Tulli’s been compared to Calvino, but I find it more like Beckett because of the role of the theatrical/performance in the prose. Anyway, it’s hard reading. I like it, but it’s really challenging for me.

So last night I read a bit of Tulli and got bogged down, and decided to lighten the night with Turgenev’s First Love. I found this interesting not because of the main story (a sixteen year old’s first crush is really not that interesting) or the social politics (it’s a 19thC Russian story, so you can imagine those) but because of the description of the main character’s relationship to his parents. It was a charming and psychologically interesting portrayal of how a lonely only child, a teenage boy in love, relates to his parents. The twist in the story is that the boy’s father ends up sleeping with the girl the boy is in love with (sorry for the spoiler, but were you really going to read it anyway?). Instead of being angry with his father, the boy kind of idolizes him more– presumably for being able to do what the boy couldn’t. The psychoanalysts would have a field day! This twist also reminded me of a certain friend I have who, enamored as he already was with another friend of ours, became even more hopelessly fond of this friend when this friend succeeded where the first friend hadn’t, that is, in sleeping with me. Anyway, the portrayal of family relationships is interesting and reminded me of James (the really interesting portrayal of what it’s like to be an only child in What Maisie Knew) and Nabokov (fucked-up fucking families in Ada).

Today I dug up a box that includes Kafka, who I will probably return to next. I won’t describe the eclectic mix of languages and genres that this box contained. I did find another Duras volume in it, so I’ll likely devour that before moving on to another author.

If I were still at UVa, all this reading would be a “waste of time,” because I could never write about these things in papers, much less in my dissertation. If I pursued “cross-cultural” or “post-colonial” studies within the English department I might be able to get away with looking at post-colonized or ESL authors, but still only by putting them in a separate, trendy, culturally condescending academic category. Can’t we just read everything?

Being out-to-pasture in terms of academia can certainly lead one where the grass is greener! I haven’t read “for pleasure” since the last time I was out of academia, the summer between finishing my MA thesis and entering the PhD program at UVA. That summer, I devoured James, Lessing and Austen. It has been hard to get interested in reading again since being at UVA. Perhaps I am now finally waking from that intellectual nightmare.


About Jessica Smith
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3 Responses to Don’t fence me in

  1. Dottie Lasky says:

    Turgenev’s First Love is hands down one of my favorite stories of all time! Oh it is so true, so true.

    I am glad you are more free to read what you want now! I hate how things get all trapped within disciplinary boundaries (and then sub-disciplinary boundaries) within academia. Whatever happened to glorious interdisciplinarity? The walls of disciplines are bullcrap! Thinkers only answer to the rules of one discipline and that’s The World. Everybody knows that.

    Do you like Flaubert? This is probably a stupid question. If I could read for pleasure these days, I would read Flaubert all day.

    Hope everything else is going beautifully for you today!

  2. Amelia says:

    Dude. Your “waste of time” reading is very academic. Summer shortens my attention span; I have been on a science fiction kick lately, lots of C.S. Lewis and Ursula Le Guin.

  3. Dottie, it’s not a stupid question. I haven’t read Flaubert since the mandatory Madame Bovary for World Lit in 10th grade. I’ve often wanted to go back and reread that (it’s my ex-roommate, Eric’s, favorite novel).

    Amelia, you know, people write dissertations on Lewis and LeGuin. Don’t sell your interests short.

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