Friday, November 20, 2009

What I would be doing if I were not doing what I'm doing

No, not extending my research to mummified baboons, or bog cats.  I'm all done with that.

Skeptical readers of Wuthering Expectations may have noticed that despite my current specialization, I am not quite exactly really entirely committed to the 19th century.  Some might have discerned deviationist Modernist tendencies. 

If I were not reading what I am reading, that's what I would be reading.  Robert Musil and Robert Walser, Pound and Cavafy and Montale, various scruffy Surrealists and Dadaists and Symbolists and Vorticists and Lunatists and other Istists.  Virginia Woolf, definitely Virginia Woolf. 

See Nonsuch Books, which is hosting a group reading of four Woolf novels this winter.  Mmm, how tempting.  Mrs. Dalloway is one of my touchstone books, one that I've studied a bit and really wrestled with.  I say wrestled because I find some of its ideas very challenging.  I don't even like it that much.  Woolf, in her novels, is sometimes more of an enemy than a friend.  But fighting with her is enormously valuable.  She always wins, and improves my game, so to speak.  If I keep practising, maybe I will win a round someday.

But I don't think I'll read along.  I'm doing what I'm doing.  Scottish literature, and Native American history, and when will I get back to Hawthorne and Melville and Dickens and Eliot (G., not T.S.)? 

The other thing I would be doing if I weren't etc. is turning back to early modern literature, particularly the period from about 1580 to 1640, the Age of Shakespeare and the Spanish Golden Age (plus Montaigne).  It's the single greatest temporal congregation of literary genius I know, just unbelievably rich.

A little over a week ago, Jennifer at Early Modern Underground announced a discussion of John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (1630 or so), a bizarre and insane minor masterpiece.  That was another thing I was not going to do, but Michael5000's response to the play pulled me in, so I re-read it one evening last week and had a great time.  The discussion has been productive, too.  And this play is only the, I don't know, 19th best Elizabethan or Jacobean play not by You Know Who.

Really, what a time.  Donne, Spenser, and Jonson.  Marlowe, Webster, and more Jonson.  Calderon de la Barca, Luis de Góngora, Don Quixote, Francisco de Quevedo.  The Anatomy of Melancholy.  Most amazing, in a way, is how good the best poems of the minor poets are:  Samuel Daniel and Michael Drayton and the Psalms of Mary Sidney and so on.  Not to mention Ol' What's His Name.  That's what I'm trying to say: it's a treasure trove even ignoring Shakespeare.

Maybe Early Modern Underground will host another one of these?  But for now, I doubt they'll mind if anyone wants to join in on John Ford.

And if you don't like any of those, how about The Lord of the Rings, hosted by Shelf Love and others. That one is definitely not for me, not anymore.

No, now, I'm reading what I'm reading.  But I wanted to plug these worthy read-alongs.


  1. Sigh. This is the kind of post that makes me want to have a whole second reading life. Or, as Calvino puts it, these are the Books That If I Had More Than One Life I Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately My Days Are Numbered.

  2. Woolf for me is...maybe more than a friend. We maybe have a little thing going on the side. :-)

    Seriously, though, if I had to choose, I would probably focus on Modernism, of all the literary movements available. But I'm glad my current reading project takes more of a generalist approach, even if a specialization is also theoretically appealing.

  3. I agree with Jenny. What an interesting post. When you do get back to Hawthorne (The Marble Faun, is that the name of the novel I haven't read?) and Melville (I've only read Moby Dick) and Eliot (I think Silas Marner is next) and who else did you say? And Montaigne--Montaigne is waiting on my shelf for a boost from a fellow reader; give a little warning and maybe I'll read along.

    Thanks for the heads up on the group reading of Virginia Woolf. I was already planning to pick her up again this winter. Except in a real-space book club, I've never read along with a group before. Interesting, the idea of Woolf as your enemy. I'll have to think about that.

  4. Perhaps I have the converse problem, of desperately wanting to limit myself but not. Case in point: the other night I read "The Piazza," then fell into a Melvillean vortex (three days and counting), wherein I decided that clearly, I could read Melville and only Melville (and about Melville) for the rest of my life. Sadly, just a week ago I was thinking the same thing about Nabokov.

    I do the same thing with music. In fact, I'm doing it right now. Glenn Gould and only Glenn Gould, 4eva.

  5. I feel plagued by all the things I could be reading if I weren't reading what I'm reading. But it's a blessing, really -- imagine the opposite.

  6. I'm too short of attention to devote myself to your, ahem, "limited" temporal focus in such a way myself, but I'd love to see somebody play the 12th, 13th or 14th century blogging foil to your 19th century guru antics here (I'm a big fan of the intersection of romance languages and medieval manuscript culture, although I don't blog about this crossroads often myself). Love what you do and most of what you say you'd be doing if you weren't doing this, though...and the Roberts (my first Musil and more Walser) are definitely on my agenda for 2010 if I don't get otherwise distracted before then. Until then, thanks for not being just another blog lemming!

  7. Nice comments, thanks.

    Maybe I should point out that in Calvino's categories, all of the early modern authors I mentioned are more like Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread, while the Modernist writers include more Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages. Don't wait for that second life for Woolf or Calderon de la Barca or John Webster!

    Maybe I should also say that Virginia Woolf the critic is actually a close friend, and one of the inspirations for what I try to do at Wuthering Expectations.

    Nicole, uh, nothing but Melville and/or Nabokov - you could do worse. As Richard says, I rarely feel limited by periodization. The field is still so varied. Two keys to how this works: 1. there are languages other than English and 2. there are books other than novels.

    Julia - a Montaigne readalong is a great idea. I am not organizing it. That's the job of the Hamlet Quixote blog, which, as Richard says, and as I've argued before, does not exist but should. Quixote Furioso, maybe?

  8. Quixote Furioso = genius, Amateur Reader! Please have an extra slice of pie on Thanksgiving for that one, my friend!

  9. These read-a-longs and challenges are just why I cannot focus on any one period of literature. There is so much that I have not read and I love the groups that help me.

    I'm actually quite intimidated by Woolf, so looking forward to giving it a try!