Monday, 19 September 2005

Course Blog, or See How Insouciant I Am! Some of you have mentioned wanting to know what my course blog would look like. Wonder no longer! I'm obviously planning on expanding it to incorporate 1) the authors we read during the quarter and 2) more links to articles by working literary journalists, but for the most part what you see there is what I'll be posting on it all this year. Which is only to say that the voice you hear here is the voice with which I teach and interact with students. I've cultivated it for more than five years at this point, so I'm comfortable both writing and interacting with students in it .... and I think it has the right balance of "anal-retentive intellectual insecurity manifested in harsh but constructive criticisms" and "cheerleader" to make this and future classes a success. (Which is only to say to those who insist I'm "a natural" in the classroom that I've worked damned hard to appear to be "a natural" and would on occasion appreciate a little bit of credit. No one is really this charming.) All of which can be summed up by quoting some of my ratings from Which I won't do for false modesty and fear that others will think it uncouth to inform people of my "hotness," because let me tell you, sitting in this very chair for fifteen hours a day, every day, watching my five o'clock shadow turn six, seven and eight until it circles back to five again is the epitome of beastly sexiness. (Or is that sexless beastliness? I'm so easily confused sometimes.) The plan for the course blog is that I'll be posting my prep. work a day or two before every class (which means I'll have to complete prep. work at least a day before every class and can thus avoid the scrambling for thoughts and copies every couple hours before every other class) and require the students to respond to at least two posts per week. That doesn't seem onerous, and because I'm teaching literary journalism to students who have come to UCI expressly to study literary journalism, they're usually more than eager to become the voracious readers they've seen twiddling thier thumbs in old world libraries on television since they were toddlers. Again, I'll post updates (or email privately if this isn't a matter of general interest) until I've wrinkled all the irons out .... or something like that.
Se Concevoir Autrement Que L'on N'est; ou C'est Vrai! C'est Vrai! Je Parle Francais Un Peu! [Note to you know who you are: I eventually tie this back the work of Gene Wolfe.] That title smoothly translates as "to conceive oneself other than one is" and is the foundation of a fin de siècle philosophical fad known as bovarysme. Most students of the humanities encounter bovarysme (if they encounter it at all) in T.S. Eliot's "Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca." Eliot argues that Othello "succeeds in turning himself into a pathetic figure, by adopting an aesthetic rather than a moral attitude, dramatising himself against his environment." He doesn't "believe that any writer has ever exposed this bovarysme, the human will to see things as they are not, more clearly than Shakespeare." Hannah Arendt would disagree. In Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) she notes how rare it is to find documents in which such bald words as "extermination," "liquidation," or "killing" occur. The prescribed code names for killing were "final solution," "evacuation" (Aussiedlung ), and "special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung). This language sounds euphemistic for good reason. Because we want Nazis to be responsible for the Holocaust we must read them as being euphemisms. If they aren't euphemisms—if the average Nazi believed that he was implementing "the final solution" instead of ordering an "extermination"—then their culpability can be questioned. The state bovarysme describes is one of complete mystification. The victims of the so-called will-to-illusion never see the despoiled forest for the haggard trees. Or even the haggard trees. They see fields of blooming poppies just begging for a good hard frolicking. They see puppies prancing with kittens cavorting with bunnies bouncing alongside wee little chicks. Such people aren't (and can't be) culpable in the way we want Eichmann culpable. The extent of self-deception exonerates the bovaryste of serial euphemism. What prevents bovarysme from being incorporated into a more thoroughgoing conception of ideology? The mystification of the bovaryste may be as powerful as any ideological mystification this side of the faded and flagging Iron Curtain, but it lacks the systemic kick of old school ideological interpellation (sans Lacan). What fascinates me about this particular fashionable philosophical position is that it appeals to anyone who wants to fool themselves so thoroughly as to forget they've ever fooled themselves of anything. They believe the lie not because they want to but because they've forgotten they lied to themselves. Why do I mention this tonight? Do I have some political point I'm desperate to make? No. I mention it because Jonathan and Rich were having a fascinating discussion about the merits of Gene Wolfe and I wanted to feel like a contributer to this blog. Since I haven't read the novels they're discussing in more than five years I felt I could best contribute by pointing out the aspect of Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus I found most fascinating aligns neatly with a turn-of-the-century philosophical fad I also find fascinating. Kind of anti-climatic ain't it?

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