July 29, 2020:
There's one class I enjoy, the only small one I'm allowed to access. A writing proficiency course I don't need, where the TA, an attentive and generous grad student, is very complimentary. There's just a handful of us around a table, sharing our words and responses and advice. It's what I thought "university" meant: a more-sophisticated continuation of the study groups on Feminist theory and Anarchism I'd participated in as a high school truant.
The TA is a Lit major and also frustrated. For her it's not the class sizes or the Olympian unapproachability of the faculty. It's the ideological narrowness she experiences in the curricula and the mindsets of her peers, where to be a Freudian in literature or a Marxist in literature is de rigueur, yet the Feminist criticism she seeks to pursue, rooted in Irigaray and Derrida — through her I learn these names for the first time — has only a marginal presence. She wants to analyze literary language as a site of conflict, where the reproduction of dominant ideologies, particularly patriarchal ideologies, takes place. For her it's symptomatic that her department and others on this campus are dominated by Marcuse and his grad students — in her view not a milieu interested in de-privileging white male discourse. This is all new to me and it's fascinating.
There's another class which I enjoy less but has life-changing impact. An Art class, where I feel incompetent and stupid, but where the TA recommends a book — another book-as-fork-in-the-road anectode — The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck. There I meet for the first time the avant garde, people remarkable not only for their playfully rebellious innovations but for the seriousness with which they devote their lives to their work. This is like a door to an unknown universe, and, stepping through, I no longer understand writing in the same way.