What’s My Year Again?

  • Virginia Jackson, Dickinson’s Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading

    Virginia Jackson’s careful, meticulous research methods create a work that expertly fuses primary sources with her cunning critical eye. Jackson posits that an “arbitrary formation” of Dickinson’s work as “lyric” occurs due to the pitfalls of the publishing and academic spheres. A “lyric logic” emerges during the nineteenth century that constrains the reaction Dickinson’s poems. As Jackson puts it, “to be lyric is to be read as lyric” (6). Now, this has interesting implications for my lyrical studies because I am also interested in how this lyric logic manifests itself in fiction. It’s no wonder the word lyrical feels hollow when applied to Gatbsy and Moby Dick and Portrait of the Artist – since we’re merely buying into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    The intense specificity and granularity Jackson achieves with this work is remarkable. While plenty of her insight is unforunately outside the scope of this project, her words about the lyric at large ring true. The shared experience of modern readers encountering prepackaged lyrics that are designed to feel lyrical make this a work suitable for a wide range of audiences.

  • Franco Moretti, Distant Reading

    Hail to the king, no? This is quite possibly the foundational work of the Digital Humanities field. Reading it left me puzzled and electrified. For one, it is definitely interesting to see how Moretti structures his arguments. He is quite open to criticism and takes plenty of time to address what we sees as shortcomings or weaknesses in his points.

    One unifying theme of the essays in Distant Reading is to increase our understanding of what causes certain pieces of literature to stick around in our culture through digital methods. The Slaughterhouse of Literature takes up this task through an interesting invesigation of detective novels. The clue, which Moretti considers the formal spark in the detective novel, is examined through an evoluationary studies lens. The “clue-tree” he constructs bears out his point that most ever author makes the wrong moves somewhere along the significant formal chain. Thus, we are left with a few, intensely read authors and scores of forgotten ones.

    Moretti’s witty, idea-laden quips like, “In Europe, only Modernism made people study novels” will reverberate throughout my head through the course of my project. There is sort of a messy middle between “close reading” and “computer reading” (which, arguably, is what “Distant Reading” really is) that is exactly where I want to situate myself with this project.

  • Jean-Michel Guenassia, The Incorrigible Optimists Club

    A lovely, lovely read. A dear friend of mine loaned me this book after he picked it up at Atlantis Books in during post graduation fun in Greece. I was blown away by the intricate story Guenassia crafts. I especially liked the setting of the work – post WWII France, with political tensions high due to the Algerian struggle for independence. I think oftentimes there is a tendency for authors to try to come at a time period like this with a sort of heavy-handed, absolutist mentality about crucial and throny events and ideas. But, what is nice with this work is the variance of ideas and opinions that come to fruition throughout the novel.

    The story leans on the point of view of Michel, a French teenager who has a penchant for reading and “baby-foot” (fusball). Soon, though, he sheds his predilection for baby-foot in favor of chess after stumbling upon a secret chess club that’s packed to the brim with dissidents, refugees and hustlers of all shades. There’s your Red Army veterans, your existentialist philosophers and even a former Soviet Union Propoganda minister. The work possesses a verisimilitude thanks to Guenassia weaving together the varying voices of the club into a palatable ensemble.

    I absolutely devoured this work, reading it in only a few short sittings including plenty of pages on my way to and from New York – my much-needed vacation after a long summer at work.

That’s it for me this month. In September I’ll probably take on the Virginia Jackson edited Lyric Reader while also diving into Matthew Jocker’s Macroanalysis. I think I will also read Ralph Freedman’s study on “lyrical novels” and am quite interested to hear what he has to say. I told myself I would read Shlovsky, but I’m not sure if I actually will. This month I will also start writing a few pages of my thesis. Meetings with my advisors will help cement what to hit first. Things are looking ok. I still have plenty to learn about what a lyrical novel is. But that’s what we play the game for, no?