Markdown But Not Out..

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby I can’t be the only one to have taken time out of their summer to relish in Fitzgerald’s copious similes. Wandering Barnes and Noble with my mom, this book’s handsome, sapphire blue cover was striking. Plus I recently watched the movie, which expertly marries music and the book’s stirring plot. Now, I was definitely hesitant to foot the $16.00 for the book. But circumstances beyond my control called for drastic behavior. I just had to have this particular edition – Scribner’s 2004 printing (ISBN 978-0-7432-7356-5) – because of the clinching sentence of the book jacket’s reverse side.

    “For his sharp social insight and breathaking lyricism, Fitzgerald is heralded as one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century.” (Emphasis mine)

    That sentence, folks, could have been ripped from the closing lines of an ENLT essay and no professor or TA would have batted an eye. What on earth does it mean? What makes this book lyrical and not the other, exorbitant 20th century mainstays with which it shares the shelf? That’s for R to tell me, hopefully. I picked out clues along the way though that will hopefully help unearth what’s making this work tick. For instance, Fitzgerald uses repetition, too, like his fellow, water-inflected and lyrical forefather, Melville. I am also hoping to stack some of the ideas from the Stanford Literary Lab regarding plot and the novel against this work since I have a feeling that this books lightning fast jolts of catharsis and melancholy carve out just the right space for Fitzgerald to croon his way into our ears.

  • Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian First and foremost…good for McCarthy for having a website! Massive shouts to the developers who landed that gig (even though it seems like it was nothing more than a hacky Wordpress job; shoddiness that the creator of this site would never stoop to…). In seriousness, this book ravaged me. McCarthy spurns commas for obscure words about the desert and survival and hate. Which made for a marked adjustment from Fitzgerald’s flowery effusiveness. Following the kids travels you can’t help but wonder what it must be like to have all hope evacuated from you. McCarthy paints a bleak portrait of America’s past and, in broader strokes, human nature. Having recently watched some nice (South)Westerns like There Will Be Blood (based off of Upton Sinclair’s Oil) and No Country for Old Men (which is actually based off of a McCarthy book) I enjoyed the meditations on the sunbeaten southwestern landscape. The kicker with this one came right at the start of the paratext.

    “[McCarthy’s] lyrical prose never sacrifices necessary economies [and his] sense of the tragic is almost unerring.” (Emphasis mine)

    Again? Really? These book publishers are just toying with my emotions at this point. I counted well over 50 words I had never even before – much less didn’t know the meaning to them. I’ll have to do McCarthy one better and drop well over 100 fancy computing words in my final paper to let my audience know that I too mean business.

  • Bert Bender, “Moby Dick,” an American Lyrical Novel Lovely stuff on our fishy friend Mr. Melville, here, from Bender, who incidentally is the coolest-named academic I have come across since I was introduced to Edward Said. This paper zooms in on Melville’s classic seafaring tale in order to probe the “lyrical” label often slapped upon it by critics. He begins the piece by proposing that the best way to capture the poetic qualities of moby dick is to treat it as a lyrical novel rather than a loose collection of religiously infused soliloquies. The lyrical nature stems from intense personal effort from Melville that played in heavily during its composition. Bender’s ideas are good and his reasoning is sound but I take his issue with the segues into completely atextual analysis he throws our way. It is important, to me, as I try to define this word without a definition, to stay close to the ground and true to the words on the page. So, that is not to say that, for instance, Bender’s notion that Melville’s grappling with faith and doubt manifest themselves in the dualing voices of Ishamel and Ahab – because that type of idea is exactly the foothold a reader can latch onto when they find themselves adrift at sea and battered by Melville ~commaelstrom~ prose. I suspect something mechanically, techinally, and, maybe even objectively links together these otherwise disparate works across time, geographic space and subject matter. Bender gives great fodder to my effort in other sections of his paper, though. He goes great lengths to identify “lyrical passages” in the novel (he pins about 20 chapters with this label). Did someone say training set?! Overall, a nice read from a talented writer whose name cannot help but precede him.
  • William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads “This is all your fault!” I yell at my edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Ballads, choking back an admixture of envy and despair. One immediate point of interest for my studies is Wordsworth’s insistence that his poems are set apart from the fray because of the topics they address. The real struggles of real people fill his volumes, he claims. This, of course, cannot be regaled to the digital humanist without Topic Modeling jumping around in their brain. Perhaps some Mallet runs comparing Wordsworth’s poetry and the rest of my ragtag “(faux)lyrical” corpus are in order. Moving on, his notes about “repeated experience” pique my interest, too. Again, a clear if somewhat obvious linkage between repetition and the lyric. The “Man of Science” he manufactures digs right into my heartstrings but I am undeterred by his other attempts to discredit rational, objective inquiry into the humanities. I will promise though to never become like the Ice-Cream pillorying lunatic that Kurt Vonnegut rightly lampoons:

    “As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.” - Kurt Vonnegut

    Wordsworth’s inquiry is dense and worth repeated approach in a deeper manner than I interfaced with it this summer. However I am glad to have at least started my expedition by circling back to perhaps the most important text in the realm of “the lyric.”

That does it for me this month. Next month I plan to finish off Virginia Jackson’s excellent Becoming Lyric before moving onto a dash of Russian Formalism (it’s Shklovsky-o-clock somewhere) and the only work on this subject that’s named what I want it to be: Ralph Freedman’s The Lyrical Novel. After that, school will start. I’ll probably take on the big-boys of DH (Moretti and Jockers) and then see what direction the new semester takes me.