Saturday, April 3, 2010


There comes a point in every academic's life, sooner or later, when various professional bitternesses set in, and one's private self rails against the injustices of the world. The world is in fact unjust, so it's a thing that has to be done, but it's not a way to work.

Someone recently said to me that literary critics are either builders or cutters: they extend others' ideas or cut others' ideas down. As far as I can tell, this is more a matter of framing than of substance; any building necessarily cuts against whatever else might have once occupied that space; any cutting implicitly rests on certain strongly held, if unavowed, beliefs. The framing can be powerful, though; I'm currently reading a book, for instance, that largely stages itself as cutting, and, halfway through, I'm still unclear on the book's actual argument.

In my writing I try as much as possible to be a builder. To my mind, building is more difficult, and therefore more rewarding, than cutting. Building is, as much as possible, an act of creation. But the commitment to building is also part of my research interests; despite their sometimes oppositional language ("I, too, dislike it"), the authors I study are interested in bringing something forth that was once concealed, or insubstantial, or inaccessible.

In the midst of various pressures, it is good to be able to bring something forth, and so in what (wrongly, of course) feels like my old age I find myself renewing my commitment to building. I find myself interested in the craft of critical writing, in the presence of the voice, in the modalities of affection, in what it means to praise. (This last, admittedly, in the context of needing to write a letter of recommendation for something unusually important.) That doesn't mean I've gone all hippie: I'm also interested in invective, in aporia, in travesty, in the poetics of mockery. But I'm interested in them as things that exist rather than as negations of something else.

In other words, I suppose, I'm feeling productive. Which is a good way to be in April, allegedly the cruellest month.

'Again the sun!
     anew each
     day; and new and new and new,
     that comes into and steadies my soul.' (ll. 142-5)

Moore, Marianne. "The Pangolin." A-Quiver with Significance: Marianne Moore, 1932-1936. Ed. Heather Cass White. Victoria, BC: ELS Editions, 2008. Print.


Gladys said...

lovely post. i prefer to build, myself.

and incidentally, for many people in my life as well, april is not the cruelest month but a month of renewal - spring and easter belong to this month. that is a great moore quote.

Natalia said...

Thanks for commenting, Gladys; I also think of you as a builder, although it strikes me that I haven't read any of your critical work literally in years. (Send me something and end my out-of-touchness?)

My sense of obligation compels me to observe that Eliot, too, is talking about building, and its terrors. Building does have terrors, which I believe is part of what makes cutting seem attractive. I shouldn't have made the opening of The Waste Land into a throwaway comment, I suppose; it's done too often.

That said, a little terror is useful, rightly experienced.

Gladys said...

well, it's been years since we took classes together. (i can't believe it's been so long. wow. why am i not even close to being done yet?! oh wait, i know why. never mind.) i'm not sure what of mine you've read already, but i do have an article coming out next year that i can share, though it might be too much of a distraction from your own work. you are one busy woman.

Natalia said...

Gladys, I'd love to read it -- if maybe not in a timely fashion (did I tell you I'm filing?). The last I heard about your project was during its prospectus stage, which was, like, ages ago.

Gladys said...

Congrats on filing! Sounds terrifying and exciting. I hope to go thru the same thing this time next year. Gotta get out! That reminds me, I need to get cracking on the writing. I only have a full draft of one chapter. :(

Anyway I'll email u the article soon. Read it whenever. Just a warning though: it's on a Philippine film that I'm fairly certain you've never seen so be ready to be confused. I didn't get enough space to offer more exposition of the film.

Natalia said...

Well, don't congratulate me yet; the filing is still in the future! Congratulations to you, though, on placing an article.