So, the Muse called tonight when I was in the midst of reading for the article that I'm writing. It was an auspicious time for him to call, as my hand was beginning to cramp from note-taking, and I was ready for a break.
But so I started talking about what I'd been working on and what was going on while I was doing it (a marathon of watching The Potter on ABC family) and the Muse asked whether I'd considered writing a book on The Potter. My response? "Well, of course I have, but it would never work because it would be a book that was crazily footnoted with all of my beliefs about the way that things should have been tied together in the concluding book(s), and it would have absolutely no scholarly merit. In addition, I'm not one of those people who works on things they love."
Of course, after making this bold statement, I then explained further that it's not that I don't love what I do work on, but rather that I do think that there are two ways of approaching literary scholarship. Some people I know fell in love with a text, or with an author or authors, and this is how they found their way into their Life's Work as Scholars. In other words, they fell in love, with a love that was pure and true, and they pursued that love into research, into everyday life. I, on the other hand, have consciously avoided work on those things that I love in that particular way. I like loving some books and some authors uncritically. I like not theorizing them. I like not putting them into context. I like, ultimately, not knowing everything about them, or about the authors who wrote them. I like being allowed just to love them - unconditionally - and getting to know them better would compromise my ability to do that. Now, it is true that I often teach books that fall into this category, but this somehow doesn't compromise my ability to be uncritical in my love for them. I can present the critical approaches, and talk about the ways in which people read the books, but I can also still just think certain things are "awesome" without regard to fitting it into an argument. I can respond like a reader - not like a scholar or a critic. Or like a scholar or a critic who has chosen not to focus on those things is probably more honest. At any rate, though, there are books and authors that I love with a love that is pure and true, and I do not do scholarship on them. It keeps them special for me.
In contrast, those texts that I do investigate and interrogate and consider in my scholarship are typically ones that I initially... well, ones that I initially had some sort of a problem with. Even those that I did "love," I wanted to write about because I had to work out some problem in order to justify or explain my love for them to myself. And the ones that I didn't love on the first read? Well, I wrote about them in order to try to figure out why I found them so unlovable. My feelings about them were complicated, and I had to find a way to approach them intellectually in order to understand those feelings. In other words, it's never, for me, been about delving ever deeper into the psyche of the love-object, loving something passionately and uncritically, first and then diving into it head first to flesh that out. I'm comfortable with the passionate and uncritical love, and I don't particularly like holding it up to scrutiny. No, what I work on, well, I've always felt like those things demand that I scrutinize them. And a lot of times that is because at first I react really ambivalently toward them.
Now, the Muse noted that "there is no such thing as A Love That Is Pure and True," and perhaps he's right. Perhaps what I'm saying is that I hate working on a book or an author on whom I have a crush, because it's just so delightful to crush hard on something that I don't want to muck it up with analysis. And then he said something about, "Oh, well, if you support the idea of this uncritical love, then this would mean that knowledge/criticism are ultimately a bad thing." (This builds on a philosophical argument we've been having lately, and you might imagine that I'm not the one endorsing the "knowledge is a bad thing" side of the argument.) My response? Well, it was something along the lines of the fact that perhaps a love that is critical is ultimately deeper, more interesting, more complicated than the Love That Is Pure and True, and thus, ultimately, though more difficult, more valuable. The fact is, I trust the texts that I do scholarship on a hell of a lot more than the ones that I keep "special." I know that I can sit with those texts for years; I believe in them; I believe that they will stand up to the scrutiny and that I have something to gain by struggling along with them. No, I don't romanticize them. I don't glamorize them as pure and true love objects. But ultimately, they're more than just comfort on a cold night to me. They're more than a crush or a one-night-stand. Ultimately, I respect those texts - I'm not merely infatuated with them.
And as I was having this conversation, and as I think about this conversation now, I realize that maybe this approach to the work might give a teensy bit of insight into other kinds of love that have nothing to do with work. Ultimately, maybe I've been focusing far too much on the uncritical, unconditional infatuations and far too little on the kind of love that I really could sit with for years and years. Or maybe this metaphor is totally broken and I've just been in my head for far too long tonight :)
5 years ago