Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Fears

Today has been long. I shall use a term I just learned and write about the important bits both syntagmatically (in sequence) and paradigmatically (with association).

The sun bright and early, best thing about my room is the slices of light at sunrise and sunset.

I went through a major Virginia Woolf phase about a year and a half ago, and it continued for about a year before easing off. During that year I read Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf; I loved it. Instead of adhering to an artificially rigid chronological biography pattern, it was written in the sort of cyclical organic associative way Woolf would have favored. It was massive, but I enjoyed it all.

Knowing that Hermione Lee taught at Oxford, I made sure to stop into her midday lectures on Woolf. Last week she lectured on Reading Virginia Woolf (and what Woolf thought about reading), and her lecture today was on Woolf’s pleasant, competitive, sometimes tense relationship with T.S. Eliot. Woolf was writing Jacob’s Room around the same time Eliot was writing The Waste Land; we read a passage from Woolf’s diary where they shared a taxi on the way to the theatre one night in 1921 and talked about Keats and how – though he wrote classics magnanimously – they were “trying to do something harder”. I’d forgotten how interested in modernism I’d been, and that together with Gabriel Josipovici’s book What Ever Happened to Modernism? (which I haven’t read, but look at longingly every time I go into Blackwells), is causing me to come back.

It was wonderful listening to Professor Lee. She speaks with absolute assurance and good-humored familiarity; these Bloomsbury figures are intimate acquaintances as well as significant 20th century figures. She has the mouth of Emma Thompson, narrow shoulders, high cheek bones, and a sharp chin, softened by her interested expression. It's marvelous to hear a world expert speak on her subject.

As you can tell from my new words, I had my first Mods Paper tutorial at Corpus Christi this afternoon. There is a golden pelican in their quad. Yes. We sat down somewhat nervously and then were asked about our lecture this past Tuesday on defining Literature (which is much harder than it sounds) and then whether language was necessary to thought. This sudden departure into the abstract, which is not comfortable ground for me, made us a bit queasy. We went on to talk about Literary Theory, a much neglected part of my education. In fact, I became exactly aware of how ignorant I am, despite having read Jonathan Culler’s Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. But now I know that the immaterial world is built by language, that language is necessary to structure time and space, that it is a system of signs: the signifier and the signified. And words like synchronic and diachronic and people like Cixous and Barthes and Saussure and ideas like the Intentional Fallacy and the death of the author…

We’re heading into new waters, where there be dragons. There can be no more television for me. I have some serious work to do.

(Man of the day: Ferdinand Saussure, pioneering Swiss linguist. Sorry, P; I know how you feel about linguists.)


Anthony said...

How wonderful, to attend Hermione Lee's lectures. Do read Josipovici's book if you find time, it is first rate.

Annika said...

Agree, sounds wonderful. But surely it's professor Lee, no?

Shelf of One's Own said...

Anthony, I first heard about Josipovici's book on your blog. Thanks for the great heads-up. Annika - sharp eye. It's been amended.

Erin said...

Your lectures sound infinitely more fascinating than mine.