Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Two for Tuesday

Woke up with this in my head (the song, not the video):

I bought Street Legal when it came out in '78--my last year in Hawai'i, was it? (Quick calculation: I graduated from high school in '82, so '78-'79 was freshman year, which was Hawai'i, not Michigan. Punahou, not Cranbrook, to be precise. I liked it, but as I recall, it got savaged by reviews, which robbed me somewhat of my pleasure in it. Our house, you have to understand, was a house of reviews, not of dings-an-sich, with the New York Times its sacred text. My father's greatest dream for me, professionally speaking, was to have me write for one of the News: The New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, the New Republic, the New York Review of Books. By the time I had the chops to go for them, I no longer wanted to, which caused him a certain amount of puzzlement, if not actual disappointment. But you see, I didn't read them anymore--and if I didn't care enough to listen to the conversation, why would I join it?

(These thoughts occasioned by a post from Mark, a few days back, about some piece by Adam Kirsch in Poetry--and, more generally, by a piece about Kirsch from Poetry itself back in May ["The Plight of the Poet-Critic."] On some level I suppose I'm wondering how long I want to write essay-reviews, which have been my major body of work since tenure, rather than other forms of criticism. More on this as the ideas begin to simmer.)


I'm on my department's MA Exam committee, and have spent the last week or two emailing colleagues about what texts we should require for the next two exams. Always a fretful negotiation: am I the only person who thinks Saul Bellow's work is dreary, misogynistic, borderline racist, and generally over-rated? Am I wrong about this? It's not as though I'll invest the time to learn otherwise at this point, at least without some very compelling reason. (Pay me and I'll read him, as I read Cynthia Ozick's Puttermesser Papers last fall. What a mean and dreary book!)

But I get ahead of myself: it looks like this year's list will be Midsummer Night's Dream (huzzah!), Middlemarch (ulp!), the Four Quartets (all four? Yes, dear, all four), Henderson the Rain King (oy), and Rita Dove's Mother Love (which I pushed for, so that we'd have at least TWO women and ONE author of color--and my colleagues felt that she'd fit the bill for our students better than Harryette Mullen).


Sent out my comments on one Crusie essay by noon, which was a Goal For the Day. Now what? Something poetry related, I think, to keep the scales balanced. Oh, but first I have to call Sarah. And before that, have lunch. (And so, my friends, the days go by....)


As my son approaches 13, I've been revisiting the music I listened to at his age. Here's the second song for today: a "good bad song" from my own ill-favored youth. Almost enough to make you believe in progress, ain't it?



Mark Scroggins said...


Laura Vivanco said...

if I didn't care enough to listen to the conversation, why would I join it?

So that you could write reviews which people like your father would believe, uncritically, which might mean that they'd buy the works written by your favourite poets. It would involve far, far, less "fretful negotiation" than being on the MA Exam committee and deciding which texts you're all going to set. In other words, you'd get to be a literary dictator (albeit a benevolent one) rather than a participant in a democracy of equals.

Not that that's necessarily how the people who do write for those journals feel about themselves and their reviews. I'm just thinking of how you, shaped by your experience of your father's attitudes, might feel about it all.

Somehow I get the impression that you enjoy dissent and negotiation, at least at some level, and would feel a bit uncomfortable thinking of yourself as an authority figure whose opinions should never be challenged.