Sunday, September 27, 2009

a little light reading? NoT!

I hope to get to a very brief review, soon, of Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, a wonderfully slow-and-careful examination of em/immigration that compares in some interesting ways with my last book, Sebald's The Emigrants. Have any of you read the Toibin? the Sebald?

A neighbour commented the other day that she'd found her way to my site, had seen the photo on the right of me at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and wondered if I'd gone there, as she once did, because it was such an important site in another book by Sebald, Austerlitz. In fact, I hadn't, and haven't yet read Austerlitz, but I will, and before long too, I hope.

Otherwise, around here, most of my time is caught up with prepping and marking for my 3 sections of English 115, a basic Writing for University course with a reading list of non-fiction (I'm once again using Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, hoping to squeeze one more term out of the prep I did for teaching with this text). But once again this year, I'm making time, one Friday afternoon a month, to attend a Literary Theory discussion group -- this year we're reading Giorgio Agamben's The Coming Community. We met this past Friday to try to make some sense together of the opening few pages -- trying to come up with a workable notion of "whatever" and "singularity" and "particularity." I haven't read many, if any, of the texts which form the conversation Agamben is joining, nor have I read anything else he's written, so I am very much in the student position. I try to trust, as I ask them to, to process, simply putting the words past my eyes, then mouthing them, swivelling back over particularly difficult sentences, just accepting that I don't yet have a framework for understanding, but that it will begin to assemble itself if I'm patient enough. Sure enough, as I listened to those of my colleagues who are more versed in this particular conversation tease out the difficulties, the implications, the sense, I occasionally felt comfortable enough to express a tentative response. Sometimes I could articulate the difficulty I was having with a sentence -- which, I think, is a positive starting place. Difficulty can be productive, right?
I even made a connection with something I'd read in Zizek's Enjoy Your Symptom many years ago, and I had some thoughts about Limbo, drawn from my Catholic upbringing, that I think were useful in wondering what Agamben's recourse to theology was about.

I can't help but think of something I read many years ago in Nancy Mairs (was it in Remembering the Bone House?, I'm not sure . . . ). Speaking of having successfully defended her dissertation, she rejoiced that she never again had to "get" Lacan or Derrida or whomever, that now she was free to read them for whatever she was able to get from their writing. On a sunny Friday afternoon, with a beautiful scene of mountains and sea laid out before us, together with a few colleagues, students, members of the community, I have the chance to think-- ethically, rigorously, playfully, and productively -- about Agamben's words, trying to move as close as possible to what he means, but without anyone grading my understanding. At one point, I couldn't help but interrupt the play to say to my 8 or 9 conspirators, "Isn't this fun? Isn't this a great thing to be doing! I'm so glad I made time for this!"

In other book-ish news, I loved this post at Jane Brocket's blog wherein she contemplates how to arrange her books, what system might govern their organization. It's a dilemma I can easily relate to, and it's one that hasn't been dealt with 'round these parts. Maybe when I retire . . .


  1. Ah, the book system ... We have the very standard separation between fiction and non-fiction; then fiction is alphabetical by author; non-fiction organised by subject area, except for cooking (they have their own shelves in the kitchen) and knitting/craft (an entire floor to ceiling in my studio). Moving the books is going to either be the best job (if my fantasy library is in place) or the worst (if it's not)! Then there are the children's books ...

    Once again, the Toibin is on my bedside pile, so I'll be interested to see your review!

  2. we are sooo synchronized! you have the Toibin as well?!
    as for the book-moving, good luck is all I can say! I'm crossing my fingers you'll get the fantasy library (and if it comes with one of those sliding ladders, you must provide photos!)

  3. Indeed, if I get that ladder, I will post pictures! With books in place, naturally ...

    Brooklyn is next to read after I finish The Slap, a book which got rave reviews here (it's Australian) but is annoying me somewhat.