May 12th, 2006

baby

(no subject)

More responses to the Humiliations entry and assocaited responses and links than to anything else I've posted. Light in Dark Corners on literary shame! Throw open the windows! Of course I know we're all still harboring our deepest secrets -- but that's okay -- there will be time to Come Out, when we feel safe and empowered.

Some particulars:

I've read Musil! Actually only volume one. But -- like a couple of other classics, like Middlemarch and of course Austen -- the surprise is it turns out to be funny -- really funny. Somehow that's the last thing you expect.

Also Ulysses -- I don't really know why people think this one's so hard -- and not to finish it is to miss one of the great perorations in all fiction, the return of Bloom to his house with Stephen, the Q&A after the wild night: like the grave final movement of a wild symphony -- and then the surprise of Molly. They don't have the effect unless you come to them with the whole book behind you.

Dickens -- He was a huge surprise when I read Our Mutual Friend as a grownup, not having looked into Dickens since high school. Stunning and not much like anything I'd read -- I might say it reminded me more of Dostorvsky than anything by the Dickens I imagined, but that would have to be "by the Dostoevsky I imagined," since I've never finished a novel by that D.

Striking about the responses was the one-man's-meat thing: how many committed readers were unable to enjoy a book that other committed readers loved. Which is encouraging and just shows how practical we all are about reading despite the sanctity we are assumed to have granted the canon.

ANthony Powell: "I was turning the pages [of *Orlando Furioso*] that evening with the sense -- esential to the mature enjoyment of any classic -- of being entirely free from responsibility to pause for a second over anything that threatened the least sign of tedium."

And Kenneth Clark: "It would be unfair to say that I prefer the back of a book to its contents, but it is true that the sight of a lot of books gives me the hope that I may someday read them, which sometimes develops into the belief that I have read them."

There sould be an agreed upon list of books that we can claim to have read without having to go through the actual tedium of passing our eyes over. Das Kapital? Interpretation of Dreams? Hamlet? Last of the Mohicans? Or books that we can credit ourselves with having read if we've read the most famous critical interpretation (or destruction, e.g. Twain on Cooper). Or if we've read the Classic Comic, but only more than once.