Monthly Archives: December 2008

sentence of the day

First, mistakes were made:

-I slightly misquoted the sentence

-The author is Guatemalan, not Spanish, and

-I think I may have said the essay was by Umberto Eco instead of Italo Calvino, which was totally my bad (can’t keep my high-concept Italian authors straight), but at any rate: the sentence was quoted in Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino, in the essay called “Quickness”:

“Borges and Bioy Casares put together an anthology of short extraordinary tales (Cuentos breves y extraordinarios, 1955). I would like to edit a collection of tales consisting of one sentence only, or even a single line. But so far I haven’t found any to match the one by the Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso: ‘Cuando desperto, el dinosauro todavia estaba alli’ (When I woke up, the dinosaur was still there).”


An open thread on Arcadia.   What do you make of its representations of the relationships between writers and literary critics?   Of its representations of reading?   What else interests you here?

Literature vs. film

I was just thinking about our class discussion today and one big question popped into my mind. We discussed some of the differences between reading a book and viewing a film (perception of reality vs. creation of a new world, the way in which facts and details are hidden or revealed throughout the course of a book/film, etc.). But in addition to all of those, how do you guys feel the two genres differ in terms of the amount of crap (for lack of a better word) that exists in each. For every excellent, artistically created, thoughtful film that gets created (and distributed to the masses, also, now that we’re in the age of mechanical reproduction), many crappy, Hollywood-ified, brainless movies also get made. I think literature is different – although that certainly depends on one’s definition of literature, what qualifies and what doesn’t qualify. It seems like there’s an audience of people who are interested in spending two hours viewing a mindless movie that won’t make you think about anything important — people probably see it as a relief, a break from the constant need to think and find significance in every day life. But (it seems to me) that there would be less of an audience for that kind of book. Maybe it’s because watching a movie requires much less work and time than reading a book. Maybe mindless books wouldn’t get published. But I also think that some books that deserve to be read get turned into movies that do not merit watching, so barring the theory that it’s impossible to accurately turn a book into a film, maybe there is some intrinsic difference between the two genres. I can’t really put a finger on exactly why this difference exists, nor can I aptly describe the way it plays out, but it seemed significant to me. Any thoughts?

Derrida and Postmodernism

We’ve read a few things this year that have referred to poststructuralism as the taking apart of large texts to decenter them, and undermine the structures on which they are based. What’s really interesting about Derreida’s essay is that it develops this theory of nothing having a center from a close (I guess one might call it “poststructuralist”) reading of Levi-Strauss, a classic “structuralist”. The underlying concept in The Savage Mind, Derrida shows, is “the abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute archia” (286). What’s strange, and fascinating about Derrida’s criticism is that, instead of working to refute past philosophies–Derrida rejects this when he writes”there is no sense in doing without the concepts of metaphysics in order to shake metaphysics” (280)–he seems to work inside the work of past philosophers.

With that said, I thought the Bennet and Royle essay was a bit confusing and contradictory. In their conclusion, Decentering, they claim that postmoderism “challenges the ethnocentric (the authorit of one enthnic ‘identity or culture–such as Europe or ‘the West’ or Islam or Hinduism). It challenges the phallocentrec (everything that privileges the symbolic power and significance of the phallus)” (256). I wonder how much postmodernism works to “challenge the phallocentric”, and not, as Butler seemed to do, to reject the entire idea of phallocentrism. I was confused by their description of Bollywood music as “a potent mix of classical and folk music from the Indian subcontinent with the so-called ‘Western’ rhythms and sounds of soul, jazz, rock’n’roll, pop, disco, 1970s blaxpoitation funk, trip hop, techno, ambient and house music” (254). It seemed to me like they were stepping outside of postmodernism to define this music. All of the other genres were written off as self-containing, but this Bollywood music somehow steps out of genre by including so many others.

With that said, I wonder if there is anything that can be said to be postmodern art; Bennet and Royle seemed to have trouble defining exactly what that is…

Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

I read this text earlier in the semester for another class, so it was interesting for me to go back and read it a second time having read a lot of literary criticism in between.  I found Benjamin’s text to be much more philosophical than most of the other pieces we’ve read this semester. He talks a lot about the “essence” of an original piece of art (including a piece of literature) and how that unique aura is not  reproducible, especially in the age of mechanical reproduction. Without the original, he seems to be arguing that some amount of tradition gets lost and the text’s actual essence is lost; the translation becomes nothing more than a superficial copy of the words on the page without a reproduction of the text’s core meaning. We’ve talked a lot about beginnings and endings in this class and how the beginning/ending of any given text is irrelevant (according to certain theories), and it seems like Benjamin’s arguments fall in a similar area. Once a text is “emancipated…from its parasitical dependence on ritual” (however negative that phrase sounds), it seems to me that Benjamin believes the translation loses some necessary element. Making art available for the masses (the clear purpose of mechanical reproduction), to him, destroys some of the originality that art could once potentially maintain but is now unobtainable.