Amazing Mess

Serendipity is always fun. I tend to experience a lot of it, because my bookshelves are so peculiarly organized, and also double-shelved, so that it’s easy to forget what’s behind the front row – I’m always rummaging around looking for one book and ending up with five or six others that I’d been thinking of looking for, wondering where I’d put, wishing I had in my hand. And everything is like that. I’m not very tidy. There are forgotten magazines, forgotten notes, forgotten drafts of essays and articles, forgotten all sorts of things. Nothing that will decay – I’m careful about that – no oozy apples or slimy pears turning up after months of wondering what that smell is. But things that don’t rot tend to get buried under drifts of more of their kind until I go looking for them. So yesterday I decided I wanted to find an old article I’d printed out – so I went through a tall stack of them that has been sitting in a corner for a couple of years now. It’s all right, it’s out of the way there, it doesn’t hurt anything. I didn’t find the one I was looking for, but I did find several others I wasn’t, but was very glad to find. One is the William Kerrigan article from Lingua Franca that I’ve mentioned a couple of times lately. Now I can tell you the title and date, in case you want to read it. November 1998, “The Case for Bardolatry: Harold Bloom Rescues Shakespeare from the Critics.” I wish I could link to it but I can’t, it’s not online. But I can quote from it, and discuss it a bit.

One bit I want to quote from gave me quite a start – I suddenly felt like a spirit summoned from the vasty deep.

Should some avatar of Ambrose Bierce ever write a Devil’s Dictionary for the modern profession of literary studies, which has indeed asked for such a scourge by generating theories about its own professionalism, one might well find the following entry: ‘Professional, noun. One who has never been struck by genius.’

I felt like jumping up and down and waving, or sending up a flare, or something. We’re here, we’re here! The avatar, its hour come round at last, is here, writing that very Dictionary. The part that’s on the site is only a fraction, you know. There’s going to be a lot more…

Only we’ll do better than that, I’m unkind enough to say. The problem with that definition is that it’s not particularly funny, and then he seems to miss the obvious joke about being struck. I don’t think we walk into obvious traps like that, thank you very much! We’re good avatars.

And then there’s the one I’ve been quoting lately:

I am told that a noted New Historicist begins her graduate Shakespeare classes by telling the students: “Do not fetishize the language.” They might have to do some fetishizing of this language in order to figure out what “fetishize” means. Used in different senses by Marx and Freud, the word “fetish” has a titanic frisson for contemporary theorists. Simply to employ it appears to induce rapture…In any case, I suspect that the word “fetishize” in “Do not fetishize the language” must be theory-speak for “value” or “get excited about.” What students are to get excited about, I guess, is the defiant act of not getting excited and using magic words like “fetishize,” to congratulate themselves on their lack of taste and sensibility. One has to wonder if a critical school programmatically excluding literary greatness can possibly have a happy prognosis.

See why I like the article? And one more bit.

Today’s critics seize any opportunity to affirm their moral superiority to the literature they study…[W]e see politicized catastrophe being deliberately imported into the realm of literature with the aim of making any other intellectual or imaginative invitation found in that space seem by comparison indulgent and elitist – a potential diversion from the grim, yet doubtless complex, business of gender and nationality.

So. Thus we learn it is good to bury things under other things, so that you can have the pleasure of finding them again. It once, was lost, but now, it’s found. Etc.

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