Monday, April 26, 2010


L'injustice est: assigning Foucault, Baudelaire, and Tocqueville translations all in one weekend, plus a chapter on indefinite expressions in the subjunctive or something, plus a list of all my errors on every prior exam and translation, analyzed. (This totals many, many errors and many analyses stating, "I picked the wrong word from the dictionary's list of definitions.") French instructors need to CHILL, and I need to be allowed to SLEEP. Ok?

UPDATE: From a department email floating around, my life problemz summarized:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On stoic republican virtue

Usually this kind of thing would go in my commonplace-blog because it doesn't bear at all on the weighty matters of grad school whinging with which this blog is otherwise occupied, but since Cicero has been criticized at least twice already this semester for his lack of wit, or ability to discern wit in other people, I offer this, from On Duties, as counterpoint to that accusation:
The words of the Elder Cato belong to this class of comparison. Someone asked him what was the most profitable activity for a family estate. He replied, "To graze herds well." "And what next?" "To graze them adequately." "And what third?" "To graze them, though poorly." "And what fourth?" "To plough." Then, when the questioner asked, "What about money-lending?", Cato's reply was, "What about killing someone?"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Excursus on obscure literary connections

Rousseau on the style of ancient poetry in Emile:
There is, moreover, a certain simplicity of taste which goes straight to the heart; and this is only to be found in the classics. In oratory, poetry, and every kind of literature, Emile will find the classical authors as he found them in history, full of matter and sober in their judgment. The authors of our own time, on the contrary, say little and talk much. To take their judgment as our constant law is not the way to form our own judgment. These differences of taste make themselves felt in all that is left of classical times and even on their tombs. Our monuments are covered with praises, theirs recorded facts.

"Sta, viator; heroem calcas."

If I had found this epitaph on an ancient monument, I should at once have guessed it was modern. For there is nothing so common among us as heroes, but among the ancients they were rare. Instead of saying a man was a hero, they would have said what he had done to gain that name. With the epitaph of this hero compare that of the effeminate Sardanapalus:

"Tarsus and Anchiales I built in a day, and now I am dead."

Which do you think says most? Our inflated monumental style is only fit to trumpet forth the praises of pygmies. The ancients showed men as they were, and it was plain that they were men indeed.
It occurs to me that this describes precisely the sparse, understated style of Cavafy's historical poems, and that they are indeed epitaphs for the ancients in almost every way, from their interest in the demise of individuals (often of Cavafy's own invention) down to the ironic last lines. Even when Cavafy deals with entire nations, he condenses them into one taut persona--the petty Eastern despot on his Roman throne with his Greek aspirations in "Philhellene" or the hypothetical man of principle in "Thermopylae." I wonder now whether replying to Rousseau's criticism of the moderns (the attack on modern pusillanimity was of course not unique to Rousseau, though I haven't come across this focus on diction elsewhere) was in some way Cavafy's purpose and the reason for appropriating the ancient style for modern, sensuous ends.

Predicted number of comments on this post: 0. Coming up soon, however, a post advocating rampant, orgiastic professor-student sex in response to this injustice. I predict more comments then.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The department of bad ideas: undermining Miss Self-Important's legacy

This is not ok. Couldn't these people just take over the Midway Review and overthrow the ponderous critical theory contingent that seems to have infiltrated it? Why does everyone have to start new stuff all the time? What happened to continuity, tradition, respect for elders--good old fashioned conservative values like that? Innovation is not conservative, unless I am the one doing it.

Also where were all these ambitious first-years when we needed writers five years ago? Is this what happens when the acceptance rate gets halved? Now everyone is eager and productive, and there are even six conservatives who write things?

Not pleased.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

On the originality of certain interpretive approaches

"Such fundamental and flagrant contradictions rarely occur in second-rate writers; in the work of the great authors they lead into the very center of their work." Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition.

"When reading the works of an important thinker, look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them. When you find an answer, ...when these passages make sense, then you may find that more central passages, ones you previously thought you understood, have changed their meaning." Thomas Kuhn, The Essential Tension. (Never read it, don't know anything else about it.)

"Following the method of authority is the path of peace. Certain non-conformities are permitted; certain others (considered unsafe) are forbidden. These are different in different countries and in different ages; but, wherever you are, let it be known that you seriously hold a tabooed belief, and you may be perfectly sure of being treated with a cruelty less brutal but more refined than hunting you like a wolf. Thus, the greatest intellectual benefactors of mankind have never dared, and dare not now, to utter the whole of their thought; and thus a shade of prima facie doubt is cast upon every proposition which is considered essential to the security of society." Charles Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief."