[X-posted to the Valve]
So I'm reading Jonathan Arac's Critical Genealogies: Historical Situations for Postmodern Literary Studies this afternoon and am flat dumbstruck by the erudition displayed therein. After dashing through the complete works of Harold Bloom—which is akin to dashing through the Western canon once-removed, no mean feat in itself—he surveys the response to what he calls the "theory boom" in American literary studies. He possesses an intimate familiarity with everything, passing judgments on Bloom's wavering allegiances here, the adoption of M.H. Abram's notion of "heterocosm" there, Geoffrey Hartman's Nietzschian rhetoric yonder ... and so on ad infinitum.
I don't dip my quill in Latin ink just to be pretentious, either. The man seems to have had the requisite infinity needed to read what he's read. I don't have that kind of time. I suppose I have to accept the fact that I'll never title a chapter "The History of Romanticism in Contemporary Criticism." I could cry. Or write a PSA:
Parents, start your children reading contemporary criticism young. If they haven't read the complete Keats and W.J. Bate's John Keats by five, their first tenure review may well be their last.
The best I can do is read Arac's chapter about the history of Romanticism in contemporary criticism and hope I remember enough to pass for someone reasonably well-read. Only throwing it in the memory well isn't enough.
It has to float.
Or I have to find some way to fake it. The intellectual equivalent of what us Southerners call "floaties." Because honestly, how does one fake dizzying erudition? Slap a quote from here, there and one from there, here? Rewrite the books no one remembers reading or even having written anymore? Wait a minute, that baby's buoyant. You know, if Arac's book weren't written so damn well, I'd probably be rewriting right now. Sentence-by-sentence. Learning what he means by revising how he says it. By the time I finished, I'd know what he knew but has long forgotten and have myself a manuscript with what credit card companies call a "pre-approved stamp of approval."
Plagiarism is the only option, people. There's no way we can read that much. Come to think of it, there's no way he could've read that much. I'm tempted to say that everything ever written isn't a footnote to Plato but a plagiarism of him. The continuity of the Western tradition must be the result of a massive fraud. No other explanation fits.
Maybe now I can sleep without the nagging feeling I ought to be dousing the midnight oil with pages from Frye's Anatomy of Criticism ...