Friday, May 15, 2009

So Many Book Ideas, So Little Time

After nearly a year, a year in which my blogging energies have been devoted to nurturing a student blog ( discussing Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, I return to this blog about writing. It's focus will be, as before, my struggles as a writer, particularly the struggle to negotiate a balance between my activities as a writer, and the research I must do in order to be an effective writer. In a sense, this is a struggle between writing (the production of texts), and reading (the consumption of texts). 

Notice how I've already set up a binary, between reading and writing. In the spirit of Derrida, I can begin deconstructing what I've written by identifying these two binaries, and noting that my self-identification as a writer immediately priviledges one of these binaries (writing), over the other (reading). And while the pragmatist in me recognizes that neither of these activities can exist apart from the other, my own academic training as a specialist in rhetoric and composition has supported the marginalization of reading/research. So much of what I promote as a writing teacher and administrator is grounded in an ideology that rejects the reader-based approaches to literacy that were dominant in the period from 1950-1980, and replaces it with a pedagogy that priviledges invention and production over research and consumption. 

This is not a new idea. My colleague here at Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne, Deb Huffman, is doing some very promising research in this area. And individuals working in the area of Intellectual Property and Writing (my son Tim is a Ph.D. candidate mining this field of inquiry) are digging into the false dichotomy between creating texts, and borrowing/sampling/researching existing texts. We need to remember the words of Oedipa Maas in Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49:

"She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit; to be avoided, and how had it ever happened here, with the chances so good for diversity? For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth." 

I have a reading plan for the summer. This month I'm reading J.M.G. LeClezio's The Prospector. I've always been a little arrogant, and this arrogant becomes apparent when I brag that I was an early, and rare, American follower of the newest Nobel laureate in literature. But I'd never read this particular work, and frankly, it looks like a beauty (I'm about 75 pages in). The Franco-Mauritean writer has painted a beautiful picture of an idyllic childhood on Mauritius, setting the reader up for the inevitable fall from grace. It's a wonderfully poetic study in many of the themes of what literary theorists call "post-colonial literature," and the powerful forces that alienate individuals in society. This all goes back to what is, perhaps, Freud's greatest work, Civilization and Its Discontents. I'd love to write a book of poetry that follows this trajectory from idyll to alienation that LeClezio traces so beautifully, but I probably won't. My need/desire to produce a text that might sell, inhibits my erotic desire to produce a text I might love. 

This just sparked a memory. A story by science fiction writer/retired CIA operative Robin Scott Wilson in the July 1972 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction: "For a While There, Herbert Marcuse, I Thought You Were Maybe Right About Alienation and Eros."

Instead of producing a text I might love, I'll probably write something with a title like Ron Ronson, Marxist Detective.  The other books I've targeted for reading this summer are probably on my list so that I might mediate the shame I might feel over such a choice.

Two writers I respect a great deal are releasing novels in the crime, detective genre.  China Mieville releases The City & The City in late May, and Thomas Pynchon releases Inherent Vice.

I can't wait!


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