I should probably be evaluating this course on the basis of whether or not I learned anything in it that shifted my views about selfhood. Instead I’m going to evaluate it using the secret, selfish criteria by which I habitually judge all courses, namely: Did this course give me an excuse to read exciting books, and did it give me ideas about additional exciting books upon which to geek out after the course was over?
Honesty compels me to admit that I did not love the Damasio, Noë and Lieberman books, but I’m not sorry I read them either. In five or ten years, when some huge technological breakthrough with implications for mapping consciousness is made, I may actually have the background to sort of understand it. And when I’m browsing the new nonfiction table at McNally Jackson and notice a new book by Naomi Eisenberger on the neuroscience of social rejection, I will chuckle knowingly.
I had been meaning to read something by Siri Hustvedt for a while and hadn’t gotten around to it, so this course conveniently rectified that oversight for me. On my own, though, I would probably have started with an earlier novel than The Blazing World and would not have looked at The Shaking Woman at all. Both were well worth reading and I’m glad for the exposure to them.
There Was This Goat and 2500 Random Things About Me Too were unclassifiable gems that would not even have been on my radar otherwise (and I like to think that my radar is pretty good!). These two books, for me, made the course worth the price of admission by themselves.
If anyone is so burned out on coursework right now that the thought of summer reading makes you want to puke, I apologize, and you have my blessing to give the finger to the rest of this post and go lie on a beach towel in the sun. But I already have a completely overambitious summer reading list all lined up about which I am TOTALLY PSYCHED, and some of it is an outgrowth of this course. I didn’t make it through Samuel Delany’s memoir The Motion of Light in Water fast enough to include it in my paper, but I feel sure it will be part of some sequel that’s still to come, so that’s getting finished first. A couple of my paper’s background sources, Paul Robinson’s Gay Lives and Cynthia Carr’s biography of David Wojnarowicz, are so interesting that I would read them just for kicks, and I have ridiculous fantasies of being able to just “sneak them in” before they’re due back at the library. But first I want to actually finish the other landmarks of gay quasi-memoir that I fronted like I’d actually read* in my paper, like the last hundred pages of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis and Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Oh my God, that reminds me…Proust. As mental preparation for writing ONE SENTENCE about Proust in the paper, I found my copy of Swann’s Way and sort of…laid hands on it a lot, as if to absorb its essence by osmosis. The bookmark was still in it, at page 272, from my first attempt at reading it about a thousand years ago. In Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, which I wrote about, there are also Proust references – including allusions to the later volumes of In Search of Lost Time which made me SO JEALOUS AND COMPETITIVE because Alison Bechdel has totally read all of Proust and I haven’t. And isn’t early summer, when everything is still sort of hazy and fragrant outside, the ideal time to read Proust? Really, he is the ultimate beach read! Or maybe sitting outside in a café garden, drinking artisanal iced tea while gentle breezes sway the fronds of a lilac bush hanging over the table…
This is not actually going to happen. But there will be other weird followups to my paper reading this summer. I noticed ridiculously late in the writing process that all four of the memoirs I was analyzing were by writers who were also visual artists. What if the “anti-narrative” iconoclasm I wrote about is attributable not to these writers’ being queer, but to their being artists, who tend toward iconoclasm anyway? Do I now need a control group of memoirs by straight-identified artists from the same period? Well then, why not finally read Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a book I am deeply embarrassed not to have already read? (Even Maud Casey has read it!) And Robert Christgau’s Going Into the City, although he’s a rock critic and not an artist, could maybe also sort of work. And Nancy K. Miller’s But Enough About Me, although really the time period is too early…
Oh, and Percival Everett’s novel Erasure! Greil Marcus is teaching that book in one of his CUNY courses this fall, the one I’m not taking because it seemed excessive to register for two courses by the same visiting instructor, so I’ll have to read it on my own. But it looks like a fascinating variation on some of the same questions of art, outsider status and self that Hustvedt dealt with in The Blazing World, this time as they concern a black novelist rather than a female artist.
Actually, this is all a bunch of rationalization. The fact is that I just want to read these books, whether they fit under any nice rubric or not. But isn’t that sort of the definition of a course? I.e., an overarching rationale for the reading of a bunch of books that you wanted to read anyway?
If anyone is still with me…what are you guys going to be reading this summer?? I would honestly love to know.
*Scholarship = the ability to seem knowledgeable about stuff you haven’t read all the way through, or at all