Lit Crit


The papers below were written while I was studying literature in graduate school. They are therefore full of words like paradigm, multivalenced, and signifier, and laden with references to Nietszche, putting things sous rature (“under erasure”, a deconstructionist term), and the Other.

They also have Stephen King, Robert Heinlein, and Monty Python in them. So maybe they don’t totally suck.

In re-reading these essays, I found that I was passionate about some of this stuff anyway. (It feels sort of a like a faint memory now, so far have I moved on in my everyday concerns). I found Modernism to be distasteful in some of its implications, and as a humanist I felt deeply worried by the fact that academe loved it. I found deconstructionism to be interesting but somewhat perverse, and and I found the classic Modern works to be, well, hard to read, fairly dull, and more flash than substance.

These were not attitudes to endear me to my professors. One even called me a “crackpot.”

So why post this stuff? Well, to have a record for web posterity, I suppose, if there is any such thing. It was after all a very large part of my life for a long time. And maybe also in hopes that someone doing a web search will come across these and use them as a citation in their own papers, adding to the rat race.

Arthur’s Unrealism compares Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Gawain and the Green Knight. Python comes out very well in the comparison, too.

Images of Self is about how two writers tackle the problem of writing biographies in a world where you can’t actually know someone else.

Hughes and Horror is about how the poet Ted Hughes (Sylvia Plath’s husband) makes use of techniques of the horror writer. I’ve got a lot of other essays about poetry, since it was one of my two major areas of study, but most of those other essays aren’t on this page.

Point of View is about a technicality of writing in a particular short story by D. H. Lawrence. Writers who are serious about their craft might find it interesting, because it’s not really about lit crit, but about writing.

I wrote Modernism to rebut an essay by David Antin, a writer I much admire. As a slam against modernism, it’s fairly mild.

The next two essays are both about writers who deal with culture clash. I am, I guess, too darn optimistic about human nature to declare ethnic and cultural divides to be unsurmountable. However, my professor preferred to view them as such. So these essays were not very well received. Insecurity and Hope is about Bharati Mukherjee’s stories, and “I Choose Life” is about Nobel-winner Tayeb Salih’s novel Seasons of Migration to the North, a novel which ends with those words but which people still somehow manage to read as being about giving up. Did I mention yet that academia is very depressing?

Seeking the Beyond is about the fact that despite what I disliked about modernist writers, they were at least all seeking something transcendent, something awe-filled and wonderful. (An amazing number of them ended up bitter or prematurely dead, of course, but at least they had this lofty goal). The introductory quotes are lifted from the opening to Harlan Ellison’s collection Deathbird Stories.

Later in my grad school career, I grew quite tired of writing typical argumentative essays; here are a few samples of the more experimental sort of paper I turned to writing instead:

writing and talking is a talk-poem essay in the style of David Antin, discussing topics such as what the proper grade for a paper is, and whether talk-poems are poetry or speeches, and whether or not my professor and I got along. The Process of Creation: Thom Gunn’s “The Blank” is an essay examining the poem from The Man With Night Sweats, Gunn’s famous book of poems written in response to the HIV epidemic. The essay is also an essay in response to itself, two essays woven together in a braid.