Friday, April 30, 2010

In one of my last emails, I promised to read David Shields's "Reality Hunger", and report back if I felt he was putting us on. I am more comfortable with his philosophy of writing now in spite of all his appropriations, because his borrowed essays and his own are instructive. They gave me a lot of information about the history of writing and art in general, also the geniuses involved. But I still can't take Shields too seriously. So what, he takes himself seriously enough for both of us. In these days when the book business in general is in trouble, readers need more help than ever, and to flog a major literary theory change right now is like giving the tiger the key to its cage.
But, interestingly and serendipitously, after reading Shields, I came across "Possessed", a non-novel by Elef Batuman (a woman and a PhD). Shields would give her an A. Batuman has written a series of essays (all her own work, though!)about her obsession with Russian literature and how Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov et al provided reference points for her life and those of her grad-school friends. She is that rare bird,an academic with a sense of humor, and she can be wry and amusing about the darndest subjects. But I found I needed a lot more craziness as a relief from her interminable book synopses and academic disquisitions. When she concludes that one of Dostoevski's characters suffers from mimetic desire, (a literary theory put forth by a Stanford prof whom Batuman studied with), and then segues to a personal friend she is sure is afflicted with the same problem, I wished there was less scholarship here and more tourist hi-jinks in Samarkand. I'd like to see this talented woman channel less Dostoevski and more Woody Allen! Barbara Phillips