Saturday, February 19, 2005

Last words on Sawyer

Student who works part-time at the local bakery cafe murmured a few months back that she liked reading old books, and asked what I thought, in general, about old books? I said I thought, in general, that they were pretty interesting, and we took it from there. Yesterday she finished The Count of Monte Christo (which she went on to after The Three Musketeers). Read it in a week, after hours & between parties.

She said: that the resolution of The Count of Monte Christo is both painful and rigorous and dead right (the emptiness of revenge). And yet, she said, you can't wait for our hero to knock off his enemies, one by one, and there's a deep pleasure each time he does . . . Which means we get the shock that Dantés does when it leads him to nothingness. She wasn't convinced by Haidée, the exotic lady Dantés gets as consolation prize; the whole narrative strand which concerns her felt wrong.

At university she’s doing psychology. I wonder if the formal teaching of literature ever had a simple (let alone a causal) relationship with what people actually read or how they actually respond? Here’s a ‘natural’ reader of literature, if ever there was, reading simply, personally, perceptively. The sad part is that she would be actively damaged by taking English at a university today. She has nothing to gain by learning that Haidée is a typical male fantasy in the mode of orientalism. She already knows it’s phony stuff, & if she keeps coming across such creations – she will, she will – think of Conrad’s women, Dickens’ younger ones – she will make her own generalisations. Then and then only is the time for Edward Said.

The groves of academe are full of students who have never studied poetry at all taking subjects with titles like ‘Rethinking Romanticism’ . Who has power in that tutorial room? More broadly, why are English Departments always, always illiberal?

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