Thursday, 25 August 2005

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Statements of Impurposiveness; or, as Gordon Gano Sings: "Lies Lies Lies Lies, Lies Lies Lies, Lies" Digging through "My Documents" for some notes which have mysteriously vanished into the very bowels of my computer, I stumbled across my "Statement of Purpose." You know, the thing undergraduates send to graduate schools to convince them that they (the students) are worthy of their (the graduate programs) attention. Needless to say, it's terrible. What it lacks in intellectual engagement it more than makes up for with its dour descriptiveness of my pretensions. I've included it in its entirety below the fold, and I've even corrected the typos, misspellings and factual errors. You heard correctly: I somehow managed to get accepted despite typos, misspellings and factual errors. Anyhow, "highlights" include: I am currently writing an Honors thesis on Thomas Pynchon’s criticism of colonialism and its concomitant domination of language in his earlier novels, V. and Gravity’s Rainbow. In writing this I have had my first experience of what graduate work will be like, and to be truthful, I thoroughly enjoyed the nights I spent in the library reading, among others, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. We all remember how well that turned out. This is not to say that I plan on reading theory to the exclusion of other works. I should say not. If now-me could travel back and inform then-me of where he'd end up, I'm sure then-me (a buffer if denser version of now-me) would challenge me to step outside. [I] have started reading the complete works of George Eliot, a task I hope to have accomplished in full by the time the Fall of 1999 rolls around. I cannot be sure, but I think this may have been an outright lie. Sure, I read Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, but that's far from the complete works. (As Jonathan likes to remind me, I'm still prone to such exaggerations. They're well-intentioned whites lies, however, as they're meant to inspire me to transform them into big colorful truths.) Those goals can and most certainly will evolve as I learn more and discover new literatures and theories, which is what excites me the most about continuing my education into and beyond the graduate level. Something excites him about graduate school? Obviously someone has yet to spend a couple years toiling over a dissertation. My word processor has become a graveyard for needlessly informative or woefully inadequate “statements of purpose”. Some contain my life story in full, some limit themselves to my intellectual history, while others are narrative attempts at explaining “how I got to where I am now,” but their imposed narratives rendered all of them little more than wistful fictions. So instead of making more stillborn contributions to “the story of who I was and how that man became this one,” I will tell you who I am and who I wish to become while attaining my doctorate. “Who I am” is a student interested in the more covertly political statements made by literary works. For instance, I am currently writing an Honors thesis on Thomas Pynchon’s...
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Literary Interest, Part III: Crossed Fingers & Muddled Minds Welcome to Part III of my continuing attempt to understand Steven Knapp’s Literary Interest and come to terms with its implications. (In what follows it’s possible that I demonstrate a constitutional inability to do either. Feel free to say so without worrying about my feelings. You could stuff my pride in a thimble and still have plenty of room for a thumb, i.e. I would rather be right eventually than wrong in perpetuity.) Commenting on my second (still muddled) attempt to pin down Knapp’s argument, Adam Stephanides argues The primary question Knapp is asking in this chapter is whether it is possible for a work of literature to necessarily mean something other than what the author intended it to mean, using Paradise Lost as a test case. As would be expected from the co-author of “Against Theory,” Knapp’s answer is “no." I read that section under the same assumption and came to the same conclusion (though I neglected to mention it in that post). My entire discussion assumed that the point toward which Knapp marched would marshal against all arguments resembling “the Romantic Argument,” i.e. ones in which the critic rescues the coherence of the intended world at the expense of the author’s intentions. On The Valve, HZ forwards a different but not necessarily contradictory interpretation: So, Knapp wants to know: What is the payoff of treating literary works as if they had a a “special kind of representational structure, each of whose elements acquires, by virtue of its connection with other elements, a network of associations inseparable from the representation itself.” What are we interested in when we are interested in THAT? HZ’s account diminishes the importance of the prescriptive angle Adam and I believe to be entailed by his local statements. Granted, assessing these statements outside the global context of Literary Interest encouraged the speculation that led to my misrepresentating Knapp’s larger claims. (The first person who acknowledges the resemblence of my misinterpretation to the type of misinterpretation Knapp calls “the Romantic Argument” wins August’s Meta-Award for Meta-Awareness.) While HZ almost convinces me that Knapp’s interest in “literary interest” is disinterested, my experience reading Walter Benn Michaels suggests otherwise. (Not that I think there’s a one-to-one correspondence between the two. However, given the vehemence with which they argued in “Against Theory” and their response to responses to it, not to mention “Against Theory 2: Hermeneutics and Deconstruction, I find it difficult to believe that their initial positions and mode of argumentation could be that different.) I cannot accept the proposition that Knapp validates the argument that “literary interest” is the better or possibly even only way readers approach literature. That there are valid and invalid interpretive strategies must be the point of Literary Interest. Right? Right? Otherwise the entire book would be nothing more than a sophisticated account of the solipsism any engagement with literature entails: Literary interest offers an unusually precise and concentrated analogue of what it is like to be an agent in general. For part...

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