Saturday, November 13, 2010

scattered reading

The "brown bag" lunchtime talk advertised in the last post got talked today. It went over pretty well, I thought – at least, talking thru it did the sort of "cultural work" that I wanted to get done: it clarified to me where I needed to go with the piece, where the holes were. And it was kind of fun.

Briefly, I was talking about antinomian – really, 17th-century revolutionary – texts in a particular Mekons song, situating them in the contexts of various post-punk bands' hat-tips to the English Revolution, Christopher Hill's Marxist historiography of the period, & the Situationists – which as yet don't quite fit. But I should get this a good deal tighter & smarter before I deliver it in a formal context.

I realized, as I talked, that I was doing what I continually flog Christopher Ricks for doing in his Bob Dylan writings – discussing lyrics almost in a vacuum, wholly apart from their song context. But it's damned hard to write about music, especially when you know as little about it as I do. I mean, I know how chord progressions work, I can play my way thru most relatively simple rock songs, but I don't read music at all; and my knowledge of the "canon" of punk, or of country, or really of any given subset of music, is pretty pitifully thin. When I discuss music, I do my damnedest to stay away from the kind of impressionistic description that bedevils much of music criticism; but on the other hand, I don't yet have the vocabulary to describe the sounds I'm hearing without evoking comparisons. (A problem that also afflicts my writing about poetry – poet X "sounds like" poet Y etc.)

Indeed, as I was reminded the other night at the pub, when I listened to a very bright student of mine lament his education, how little he'd read in college, the things he wished he'd learned, I don't know as much as I'd like to about anything. And my reading, which has lately gotten more & more scattered, isn't really helping. I know this & that about a vast variety of things, but there are only a couple of things that I know a lot about: I guess I know LZ pretty well, & modern poetry in general. But I'd like to know the Romantics better; I want to finally get to grips with Hegel, from beginning to end; I want to get a firm grasp of what Badiou is up to; one of these days I want to read Lucan's Pharsalia, and Tasso, and Camo├źns, and Ariosto.

But life is short – only so many hours in day, only so many pages one can riffle thru. For the record, right now I'm reading
•Hegel's Philosophy of History (a long-term project, one winding down now)
•Christopher Hill's The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries (a break from Stanley Fish's big How Milton Works)
•Glenn Burgess's The Politics of the Ancient Constitution (I really want a better grasp of 17th-c. political thought)
•John Guillory's Cultural Capital
•Bourdieu's Distinction (another long-term project)
The Odyssey (a great pleasure, somewhat spoiled by being "for work")
The Aeneid (in the "beige" Fitzgerald translation, while I wait for Sarah Ruden's new Yale)
•several different books on Samuel Johnson & biography (next semester's seminar)
and of course the stuff I'm "teaching," which means Paradise Lost and (this week) Martin Corless-Smith's Swallows. In the interstices, I read slim volumes & chapbooks of contemporary poetry (most memorably lately J. H. Prynne's Sub Songs, which would be memorable if only for its humongous dimensions). It's no wonder that I'm scattered.

Clearly, I'm not cut out to be a scholar at all – or maybe, not anymore. What I need is a gig as a (regular, paid) book reviewer, or a weekly "cultural" column for some upper-middlebrow newspaper. Anybody out there with a job for someone who knows a little something about just about everything, and way too much about things no-one else cares to know?

1 comment:

Archambeau said...

I think we get get you a gig at the Edinburgh Review, circa 1810. I'll be working for Blackwood's.