Tuesday, May 11, 2010

jumping fish

The semester officially ended over the weekend, when I turned in the last set of grades. Alas, I was so exhausted by the time it finally wound down that I haven't yet had that moment of VACATION!! elation – just a kind of emptied-out aimlessness thus far, along with any number of fiddly house-related things I've started to tackle. I have this kind of fantasy wish list for the summer: 1) lose weight, stop being a corpulent old man; 2) get (sorta) into shape, slough off some of those bad (physical) habits I've acquired over the last decades; 3) clean out the hideous, sifted midden that is my study, a major archaeological enterprise; 4) write the next book.

I hope to make a teeny bit of headway on some of these; we'll see. I think tidying the study is a pretty high priority, as it's gotten to the point where I can't find a pen when I need to take a phone message. The last one, "write the next book," is probably the most sheerly fantastical of them all. But I'm thinking about it, making notes, looking over old notes.
Writing per se has been a problem this semester. I've written some pretty decent poems, and at the beginning of the year I managed to pump out several pieces that I'm not all ashamed of; but since then I've found myself not exactly blocked, but rather unable to get to the point: I sit down with ideas & I proceed to write around them, spin them out & then spin away from them, ending up with yards of prose that is so baggy it repels all attempts at revision. These things go in cycles, I know; maybe at some point in July everything will come clear, & I'll start reeling out the crystalline sentences & paragraphs I need.
Reading is never a problem, tho I think my reading lately has been even more scattered & exogamic than usual. Yes, I read thru the Harry Potter books, over the course of a couple-three weeks, just so I can keep ahead of P. Half-Blood Prince was better than I remembered; Deathly Hallows was as much of a train-wreck the 2nd time thru as the first, bales of new esoterica, distracting side plots crammed into an already overstuffed package. Give me Return of the King any day, where it all comes down to that damned ring; Tolkien, he didn't introduce 15 new magical objects that Frodo had to negotiate in his final volume, did he?

20 years later, Middlemarch is far more engrossing than it was the 1st time around. I suspect I will be deciding that missing out on Eliot has been a major problem in my life. Phyllis Rose's Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages is a surprisingly good book (why "surprisingly"? – evidence I guess of my prejudice against the widely-reviewed, hard-headedly "popular"): I learned a good deal about Harriet Taylor & John Stuart Mill, & was confirmed in my opinion of Thomas Carlyle (a brilliant, self-absorbed shit). The "contemporary" commentary of Robert Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers haven't worn very well, but the basic information is rock-solid, & it's stuff that I feel a need to know at the moment, for whatever reason. I'm contemplating with trepidation Joseph Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis.
Finally I know for certain what I'm teaching next year, which is a nice thing. I've already mentioned at some point the grad workshop & the Milton course for the Fall. After some consideration I've decided to go with the Kerrigan et. al. Milton, Complete Poetry and Essential Prose (Modern Library), which looks to be the single-volume edition I & my students need. If it's a disaster, you'll hear about it.

In the spring, to my surprise (well, I asked for them, so it shouldn't be such a surprise) I'm teaching an undergraduate course on the epic and reprising my graduate seminar on biography. The readings for the former are obvious: Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, plus maybe something else (we'll see). Would love to hear others' experiences with particular translations of the poems. Last time around in the biography course, along with the "historical" stuff – Plutarch, Johnson, Boswell, Strachey's Eminent Victorians, etc. – we read Claire Tomalin's Pepys, The Poem of a Life, Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman. This time around I'll probably drop the Plutarch & a final session on AS Byatt's The Biographer's Tale, making room for one or two more contemporary works; maybe swap out Tomalin & TPOAL in favor of 3-4 others. As I asked before, any suggestions?


mongibeddu said...

There are something like fifteen biographies of Emily Dickinson and I've had occasion to track the way the different ones have handled particular episodes or themes, and it's very revealing. She must hardly be the only one so gifted with surplus narrative. I'd recommend just such a roundup of parallel passages, in place of one whole biography, for one figure who captures your imagination. It's probably better when there's less actual fact to work with. So Shakespeare, say, would be a better case study than Pound. My two cents.

Ben F.

Vance Maverick said...

I'd recommend Masayo Duus's Noguchi biography, at least as a good book to read, if not necessarily course material. Much better than some other artist biographies I was reading at the time (marred only by some minor editing issues).

Adam Katz said...

epic: Gabriel Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook (I'm in love).

bio: Spicer's Fake Novel about the Life of Arthur Rimbaud? Broch's Death of Virgil?

Laurie Duggan said...

Mark Polizzotti: Revolution of the mind (Andre Breton)
James Knowlson: Damned to fame (Samuel Beckett)

Big Fun 3 said...

Hey, where do you teach in SoFlo? I'm lecturing at UM...

Mark Scroggins said...

Ben -- brilliant idea, one that's crossed my mind at times. What's your take, by the way, on the Habegger Dickinson? I'm enjoying it a good deal more than the Wolff, which is the only other full-length life I've read.

Ric -- what I call "Our Fair University" on the front page of the blog is actually FAU in Boca.

mongibeddu said...

I like the Habegger a lot, the more so the more I return to it. Have to admit, though, that I'm partial to Sewall. My favorite early one is Genevieve Taggard's.