Sunday, March 29, 2009

Unlawful Casual Knowledge

There is no guilt like the professional guilt of the writer who makes an incisive remark on a text that remains unopened by said writer, as Bayard deconstructs. He even has a taxonomy:

“livres inconnus” (books one is unfamiliar with)
“livres parcourus” (books glanced at)
“livres dont j’ai entendu parler” (books one has heard discussed)
“les livres que j’ai oubliés” (books one has read but forgotten)

All in all, this covers a huge swath of my cranial space. They’re kind of like evil imaginary friends, the tomes whom you have pretended to have digested. They whisper to you at parties, and track mud all over the floor of your gestalt, saying, “That remark would have been so much funnier if you actually read about the seizure in Chapter 12” and “Of course, I made fun of the motif you said I revered in the epilogue to Crepuscular Tuscany, but you wouldn’t know that, would you?” So what should be as important and primal to a writer as the cave paintings in Lascaux are to an artist end up being mere graffiti: “Call Hester for a brazenly good time.”

Here are my heavies:

Moby Dick
War and Peace
The Magic Mountain
Remembrance of Things Past
Gravity’s Rainbow (started 4 times)
Madame Bovary
Brothers Karamazov
Anna Karenina
Native Son
Their Eyes were Watching God
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
As I Lay Dying
Go Tell It on the Mountain
The Tin Drum
The Sorrows of Youth Werther
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dead Souls
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Brave New World
The Rainbow
The Man in the High Castle
A Farewell to Arms

Tropic of Cancer
Bonfire of the Vanities
Catch 22

And let’s be honest. Wikipedia is not making things any easier. There goes 60% of the conversation of literature majors, whom I notice tend to specialize in off-hand remarks. I suppose that the printing press caused all sorts of resentment also (“I paid an extravagant sum of money for this book and your damned pamphlet cost you a shilling!”). Blogging too, of course. I have this mental image of a publisher’s nightmare, where they look up from compositing type and fearfully ask the blogger lurking in the shadows what his name is. From the darkness comes the sepulchral reply, “OMG! Legion! For we are many.”

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