November 4, 2020:
The apogee of my academic experience was a course on Ulysses in my third year.
We'd previously completed a fairly routine course on "Theory of the Novel" which I believe was part of the standard rotation. I say "fairly" routine because the reading was not the dominant New Criticism of a previous generation. Instead we encountered Northrop Frye, Ian Watt, Harold Bloom, and Erich Auerbach, a fairly wide exposure given the American context. To me it was useful primarily for Forster's Aspects of the Novel, a text which later became a cornerstone for understanding TriadCity. Yet it was nevertheless essentially conservative. We did not encounter Feminist criticism, Jameson, Lukács, Macherey, Eagleton, Barthes, Derrida or others who might have made the experience wider and more compelling. We did read Bleak House with its double narrators; Tristram Shandy with its anarchic subversiveness; but not Gravity's Rainbow, Naked Lunch, or other examples of literary Postmodernism. On the whole it was surprisingly tame given our previous undergraduate encounters with Freud, Marx, Darwin, and Einstein.
We did though read Ulysses, our only Modernist text that year. I read it, re-read it, read it some more. I read it for its humanity, the beauty of its language, its formalisms, but above all its Symbolist notion of matching form to content. It seemed radical to me, although the course did not do a strong job of explaining why. For that I had to encounter Brian McHale around twenty years later.
I wanted a deeper dive. One of the truly jawdroppingly great things about Johnston was its rule that if you could gather five students to commit to a shared interest, the appropriate professor was required to teach the course. I proposed reading Ulysses for an entire term, with criticism, Ellmann's bio of Joyce, and whatever else seemed appropriate. The timing was perfect, because many of us were traveling to Greece that winter, for which the Fall term was prep: intensive study of the Greek classics, plus Braudel on the Mediterranean. We were reading Homer, so that adding Ulysses to the mix was inspired.
I read the novel four or five more times, Ellmann twice. I took the novel and the bio to Greece, large books, part of the absurd traveling library I lugged, with the two volumes of Braudel, Freud, Passages From Antiquity to Feudalism, about forty pounds of pre-iPad ink-stained trees, reading and re-reading in my glacial, repetitive, and very thorough way, in chilly hostels without hot water, or onsite at ruins all over Greece and western Turkey and Sicily. I read it on the trip, yet again in San Diego in January. I'm not sure how many times I read it in 1979-80. Maybe twelve.
That was the most exciting intellectual adventure of my college career. It was the thing at which Johnston College excelled. Winging a new curriculum based on student interests, diving into an undergraduate course with graduate intensity, parallelizing the material to juxtapose Homer with Joyce, part of the time in Athens. Brilliant.
This is why I went to an alternative college, and I bless blonde rebellious teenage Kelly for bringing me those catalogs, one ugly drizzly Southern California day, at the very depth of my misery.
November 3, 2020:
There was a straightforward relationship between scarcity and events.
When my only chance to see Performance or A Clockwork Orange or The Devils or Marat-Sade was to be present at the Ken or the Unicorn during the one week per year when these titles were shown, that experience, which required my physical presence at a specific location in space at a specific location in time, was as much an event as any birthday or Christmas or Thanksgiving. It required planning, logistics, the juggling of commitments, funds, transportation. It took more effort than social holidays because I was on my own, and multiple bus trips were involved. Unlike social holidays I looked forward to screenings eagerly.
You can think of the availability of these films as a form of rationing. In their scarcity their few prints traveled the country, turning up one city at a time. While the theater managers had an interest in keeping them scarce. Screening The Devils just once annually made its appearance special. Made it an event.
Nowadays I own a copy of each of these once-scarce films and can watch them whenever I like. From the right distance my bigass flat screen is about the same perspective as the Ken's and today's home 48-bit sound is certainly better. I love having them, in part because they'd once been such rare and difficult treats.
But the event surrounding them is sadly no more. There's nothing special about streaming on demand. I wouldn't trade this for the old way, but, truthfully, it's not just the screen which has become smaller.
November 2, 2020:
I loved her because she read books.
She loved Pale Fire, spoke eloquently of the final paragraph of "The Dead", read A Pattern Language for fun.
She was brilliant, and charming, with a dancer's lithe grace, a former stripper's chronic manipulativeness, and an addict's proclivity for theft.
I loved her, I still love her, but with the help of therapy I recognize her toxicity.
I wish her well, and lots and lots and lots of future books.
- November 1, 2020: City man in grey and bowler, with briefcase.
- October 31, 2020: I'm told by third parties that the Dean of Students rates my story in this month's Forum the best undergraduate fiction he's ever seen.
- October 30, 2020: I'm walking my friend's little brother home from school.
- October 29, 2020: Let's nail this down.
- October 28, 2020: Keith and I are definitively confused regarding the meaning of "abstraction".
- October 27, 2020: I've been given a master key.
- October 26, 2020: There was a professor named Michel I wish I'd worked with.
- October 25, 2020: My encounter with these materials was distorted even further by my failure to learn French.
- October 24, 2020: Thus our assimilation of "French Theory" was always ambivalent.
- October 23, 2020: That we were actually what was already labeled "Poststructuralists" became clear to us only later.
- October 22, 2020: I've learned only recently that Jameson had been a professor at UCSD at roughly the times I was first present there.
- October 21, 2020: One day in twelfth grade beautiful Cynthia approached me to say, "You'd better start going to English class."
- October 20, 2020: Then I no longer needed the lies.
- October 19, 2020: I don't think I'd ever lied before.
- October 18, 2020: I should underscore: I was never a loner.
- October 17, 2020: Second summer home, a kid I'd hung with four or five years earlier wanted to talk philosophy.
- October 16, 2020: She was so, so bitter to hear how much I liked her friend.
- October 15, 2020: Not for the last time I completely failed to grasp just how lonely I was...
- October 14, 2020: But I grieved for that friendship.
- October 13, 2020: In her defense...
- October 12, 2020: In pieces here I've often returned to "narcississm" as one root of the personalities of certain women I've described.
- October 11, 2020: She's incapable of cottoning-on to the difference between Althusser's objectivist "problematic" and Kuhn's subjectivist "paradigm".
- October 10, 2020: I grew up with the notion that food cravings are a language.
- October 9, 2020: A text by Spinoza
- October 8, 2020: Bath bombs.
- October 7, 2020: I wanted a friend.
- October 6, 2020: She's angry, because her heart is broke...
- October 5, 2020: After 9/11 I invited her to a study group.
- October 4, 2020: Crowded circle of Marin County liberals...
- October 3, 2020: She wouldn't know history if it bit her on the ass.
- October 2, 2020: Professor Falstaff loved bricolage.
- October 1, 2020: Queen Bee on the dormroom floor, hive of drones attending.