21 February 2008

Wednesday Night Notes

So, I haven't posted here in a while.  Part of the reason-- fatigue and general business-- is old and well-known, while the other is very much less so; lately I've been writing, if at all, on Facebook mainly because only my friends can read those entries, something that's increasingly important as I recall how easily people can misconstrue material, whether deliberately or accidentally.  Frankly, I'm just not sure I care much about blogging anymore.  After almost five years of it, I'm increasingly inclined to give up the pretense of maintaining a web-site, however nominal. 

That said,a few random notes on Life In General, collected for, well, no reason whatsoever:

  • I'm increasingly aware that my training-- or my experience, or whatever-- has made it almost impossible for me to be surprised by a movie anymore.  As I've noted elsewhere, some movies, trying to be cheeky or self-aware, indicate their own spoilers with ostensibly sneaky winks at the audience so they can justify their big surprises.  In The Usual Suspects, it was Kevin Spacey talking about the texture of his piss; in Lucky Number Slevin, it was Josh Hartnett's initial manifestation in nothing but a towel.  Today I was (finally) watching Brick, the high-school reinvention of Dashiell Hammett fiction with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt.  At one point in the early going, a young woman, I don't know the actress' name, appears at a party in a silk, Chinese-patterned gown, all eyes and would-be sophistication.  First thing I thought?  "It's Chinatown."  I knew right then who the real villain was going to be, and the movie didn't disappoint.  It's a good film, all in all, but directors really do need to be more careful about tipping their hands too early. 

    Similarly, in the remake of Sleuth with Michael Caine and Jude Law, as soon as I saw Law going into one his ambisexual cooing-poses, I knew exactly how the film was going to resolve, and it didn't disappoint, either, at least not in that context: the film itself is a depressing affair, given the immense talents involved (Caine, Law, Kenneth Branagh and Harold Pinter). I wonder if many other people suffer this sort of accidental prescience when they watch these sorts of movies.  Probably not.  By the way, Brick did one thing very, very smartly: conflating the Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Wilmer the Gunsel (Elisha Cook, Jr.) characters from The Maltese Falcon into one figure.  It borders, in its allusive simplicity, on a masterstroke.
  • I have been rereading Conrad's Heart of Darkness for one of my courses, and am remembering what a genius Conrad was with language.  Sure, I have read it several times before, the last time maybe five years ago, but I think it's only with this reading that I'm truly savouring the language like fine whiskey.  There's not an ounce of sentimentality to it, and in a perversely mimetic way there's a sublime sense to which Marlow's narration resembles the mysterious undulations of sea-travel-- or, rather, river-travel.  I started teaching it last week-- on Valentine's Day, of course, my subtlety too smug by half-- but I think my first week on it, content-wise, was one of the best lectures I've given in recent years.  There's so much to say about that magnificently miniscule text, one hardly knows when to stop.  I am now teasing through a possible article on it in comparison with Graham Greene's revision of it in A Burnt-Out Case, though I'm dubious about when I'll ever have the time.  Greene once said that he had to stop reading Conrad for twenty years for fear he would "colonize [his] style," but I suspect A Burnt-Out Case was a much more studied response to Conrad than many of Greene's critics have previously realized, particularly in Greene's transformation of Conrad's persistent "uneasiness" into his (or his character Querry's) "discomfort."
  • The more time passes, the more I want to teach Shakespeare again.  I miss it, immensely.  I keep inserting bits of Shakie into my courses, usually to surprisingly good effect considering the courses themselves, but I want to be able to talk about literature passionately again.  My short story course, with its heavy emphasis on Modernist writing, tends to disallow that, simply because of the profoundly ironic nature of so much of it.  If I had my way, I'd establish myself as my own Shakespeare Department at Current Institution and build it from the ground up.
  • Considering both Conrad and Shakespeare, I was reminded of the simple fact-- and it is, despite what others may say-- that the two greatest periods for literature in English were the Renaissance and the Modern (1890-1945) Era.  The former's obvious, but why the latter?  And it occurred to me today that it was in the Modern Age that, for the first time, writers could discover one another without really meeting.  In previous decades and centuries, they would do so in centralized loci such as Paris or London; but with the technological advancements of the time, and the mass production of texts reaching new capabilities, authors could, with legitimate excitement and/or antagonism, respond to other authors, other movements, other concepts, without limitation.  Moreover, there were specific Modernist projects, goals, aims.  This thing we loosely call Post-Modernism, for whatever its other virtues, is pretty much toujours-deja cynical about Everything, so no wonder it (and its various subsequent posts) has failed to find its genuinely crystallizing voices. 
  • I'm increasingly aware that my students really don't think of me as a capital-T teacher.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing; I find it sometimes undermines the authority, but it underlines the credibility, especially as they don't put me into the pedestal-based camp.  It often seems I'm more like a residence don than a professor per se.  I'm glad in most ways that I'm seldom seen as the "typical" prof, but it also disaffords me of some of the aspects so crucial to the imperious assertion of control that's often necessary in managing & co-ordinating large groups.  It reminds me, though, of something I find fundamentally distressing, the extent to which most in my profession work upon assumed authority rather than earned authority. It remains to this day that students of mine from ten years ago still go out of their way to see me; somehow, that's more intensely meaningful than any course evaluation ever would be.

I don't know: that should probably just be my mantra henceforth:  I don't know.  Intelligence ultimately defeats itself, as does instinct.  One simply goes, and moves, like Marlow's steamer, through the stillness and the calamity.  One should be so zen-- and yet never tip one's hand.


zelda said...

Jeremiah, i get you. i think i might have to break down and finally sign up for Facebook.

Anonymous said...

Yup, I know wot you mean about blogging. Life tends to be too short once one is not a stoodent any more. Still, the occasional evidence that one has reached one's 2 1/2 readers is pleasing. As for Facebook, my daughter put me on it, and I have happily and speedily forgotten it since. My friends can read my blog or write to me.
Shakespeare is a joy, because he teaches himself.
Not being a capital-T Teacher is one of the two best ways to teach.
As for being surprised by films, I see little Hollywood, so what I do see tends to surprise me, but I never seem to lose my capacity to be either enchanted by films ("Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring") or shattered by them ("Il y a longtemps que je t'aime", the new film with Kristin Scott Thomas). If being naive is the price one pays for not being blasé, I'm happy to pay.
Jer, your blog takes ages to load, mainly because of Enematation -- am I the only one to have that problem?

cbeck said...

I believe a belated 'alas' fits best.

cbeck said...

And so I came to see whats up. I read, and thought, "I should leave a comment". And Imagine my surprise on Clicking. I already did. Apparently at 2:14. Sadly, I had in mind to say the same thing. I am truly an unoriginal bastard.