Thursday, February 24, 2005

Inner Critic, Peering Out

I mostly admired Jonathan Lethem's novel, Fortress of Solitude. And yet I found "The Beards," his piece in this week's New Yorker, flabby and self-indulgent. (Rather like some of the stuff I'm guilty of writing on my own blog, you might be thinking.) But we’re talking not about a self-edited blog entry here; we're talking about the New Yorker, and I just expect better from them. Lethem had one or two interesting themes, but these drowned in sticky introspection and a pretentious stream of 80s pop references. Also, I grow uncomfortable around people who talk too much about What It Means To Be a Writer. Or what it means finally to have become a writer. Or how one’s writerly soul was (aha!) both source and outcome of one’s youthful alienation.

To me, all this talk smacks of an unattractive false modesty. Of an unselfconscious egotism made worse by claims to self-awareness. When an author starts going on about his author’s heart, it’s rather like watching someone pick at a zit when he thinks he’s alone. I’m startled, fascinated, embarrassed.

Meanwhile, this guy exasperated me with his First Person column in the Chronicle. Pollyannas in academe are never as much fun to read as their more sardonic counterparts, sure. And, really, I have no quarrel with his claims that academic work is both unending and its own reward. I was more irked more by how oblivious the author appeared to the needs of his spouse who, thank goodness, did not mess up his publishing deadlines because she managed to deliver their baby (via C-section) six days late.

I'm sure this article hit close to home because Madison Randolph seemed too akin to my own partner, who occasionally tends toward the clueless and monastic. As Randolph wrote, "The projects we as academics pursue make us crazy, they bleed into our home lives and cause us immense amounts of stress." I'll accept the craziness and stress, at least in these early years of our careers. But certain academic commitments not only “bleed into our home lives,” but also, simply, bleed us of those lives. I say to hell with leeches, which never did produce a cure.

4 Comments:

At 4:58 PM, Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

OMG, what an utter oblivious doofus! Sheesh. Now, imagine what the column would have looked like if it was his wife, not he, who was starting the TT job and writing that textbook and book.

(And I guess I only have so much sympathy with someone writing a column to say: omg, the TT is SO MUCH WORK. Um, yeah. It is. This is news because??)

 
At 7:55 PM, Blogger meg said...

I can't believe you managed to read THIS WEEK's New Yorker. I just finished one from November 2003 and felt proud.

"Madison Randolph"'s column scorched my waffles too. I understand having those thoughts (as you say of Lethem) -- I don't believe in pure hearts -- but not publishing them. Sheesh.

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger YelloCello said...

I'm probably being a little harsh on Lethem...but, I was getting at what you expressed, Meg: "Some interior musings should STAY interior, man!" (BTW, I'm sure I'm most critical of the impulses in others that I happen to recognize and repress in myself.) As for my having read the new New Yorker, that's just further evidence of my fine procrastination skills! And I'm glad others agree with me on Randolph. As you say, NK, I SO want to see his wife's version of that column.

 
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