May 29, 2004

This is a reading diary.

It comes out of this reading project that I did during the semester. I've posted that original post below.

In the weeks that follow I have lost my datebook and so I can't remember what I've read since then. This would most of my reading for the month of May. I've made some notes. I'm going to pull them out of another notebook and post them shortly.

** original project report **

I can't find my copy of the _Great Gatsby_ anymore. But in my memory there is that moment in the end when someone, I think it is Nick, is talking to someone, maybe Gatsby's father, and they look at some book in which Gatsby has written some sort of schedule for self-improvement, for class passing. I have scary profound moment of identification with this moment.

This semester I began with a plan to read a critical book a week. I've thought of it as my Gatsby plan for class passing.

I started reading as punishment and then this is a sort of how I learned to stop worrying and enjoy the bomb type story. I got addicted to reading the criticism. Enjoyed making lists of books to read in the future. Wrote them down each week on my calendar like talismans or trophies. Felt good about myself for a few moments. Here is how it went.

January 3
1. James Clifford, _Interviews_... I like Clifford's work so the read was fun. But the book feels a little old and like one of those homage books that get published because Clifford's work is good and not because there is a need for it. It was good though to start out with something short and conversational.

January 10
2. Michael Taussig, _Law in a Lawless Land_... Diary-like, quick read. Story of two weeks in Columbia in a town that is having a cleansing. The diary part of it makes it an easy read. And also limits its perspective. It feels so on the street, so limited to the few weeks in which it was written that it frustrates a bit. I am often frustrated by his work though. I think I carry in my mind expectations for his work that are too great so when I read it I get a little bit bummed. Nonetheless, I will probably pick up his new one, _My Cocaine Museum_, shortly and try again.

3. J M Coetzee, _Elizabeth Costello_... Weird, twisted book. Like his others. This one not as good as the stunning _Disgrace_, which I can't stop thinking about. But funny and worth reading. Robert Duncan shows up. As does Paul West, a hero of mine from the days when I read experimental fiction (undergraduate mainly). The Paul West story in particular is very strange and fascinating and it is hard for me to figure out the tone of this story.

4. Geoffrey Galt Harpham, _Language Alone: The Critical Fetish of Modernity_... Obvious read for what I call my "project" which is an article I’m working on about colonialism and language and modernism. I found the book "helpful." It was weird to me that colonialism--which brings such complicated language politics with it--never shows up in it. I sort of eased into the criticism with the Coetzee novel and the Taussig and the Clifford. But arrived with this book.

[N.B. I had a lot of plane trips during this week and the previous one. And then I was doing a residency at Goddard and it was so cold that I spent most of the time in my room reading. So I got ahead and it was useful because I got behind later.]

January 24
5. Marianna Torgovnick, _Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives_... Also obviously on topic for “project.” It reads like it was written with a sledgehammer, which is somewhat of a good thing to me. To me reading it for the first time now, it feels like a lot of the ideas in the book have already filtered into the general academic discourse. Which is probably a sign of it being a part of the culture now.

6. Sergio Ramirez, _Hatful of Tigers: Reflections on Art, Culture and Politics_... Short, essay book. It might be cheating a little to include it. But it is written in short vignettes and I found it useful as a model for something I might want to do. It is also written in homage or in celebration of Julio Cortazar. Interesting on how literature mattered to the Sandinista movement.

[Unrelated read: Elizabeth Kadetsky, _First There is a Mountain_. A book about yoga that mentions and then drops the interesting fact that Iyengar seems to have nationalist ties. Could have heard a little less about how doing yoga was like joining into a disfunctional family that mirrored her own. But I actually have to admit I enjoyed reading this book.]

January 31
7. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, _In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time_... A strange little book. I am fond of it in some ways. I had looked at it a few times and kept recommending it to people without actually sitting down and reading it through. I like how he organizes his chapters around things like "elevators," etc. Another useful model for writing literary criticism. But also found it strange how much he concentrates on commodities and how little he mentions the major political changes and conflicts that were happening at the time. I left with the feeling that 1926 was a great year to buy things. Or ride in an elevator. But didn't learn much about the general strike in the UK that year.

February 7
Another airplane weekend. Went to Ithaca, New York. Ended up spending a number of hours in New York City airport because there was something wrong with the plane on the way to Ithaca. Got a lot of reading done.

8. Brent Hayes Edwards, _The Practice of Diaspora : Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism_... One of the most useful books that I read during these months for the project. I was totally inspired and I hope to steal much from this book. Lots of archival work with journals (I will steal this impulse for my own project). Lots of historical work. Great readings of Langston Hughes and others. Very helpful book. Also appreciated focus on international and not local.

9. William Vollman, volume 1 of _Rising Up, Rising Down_... Great airplane reading. But I haven't gotten back to the other volumes. I'm fascinated by his writing which I find messy and well done. I often disagree with him, especially in this book (he sometimes doesn't seem to understand things; does a really bad reading of Kropotkin's _Mutual Aid_, for instance). But I still like anyone with a clearly insane and connective mind. I plan to get back to the other six volumes shortly.

10. J.M. Coetzee, _Foe_... Just a classic that I'd never read.

[Unrelated... picked up Elizabeth Treadwell's _Chantry_ and read that also this weekend.]

February 14
11. Michael North's _Around 1922_... I've learned a lot from his _The Dialect of Modernism_. This book also very helpful. Serious historical work. Doesn't ignore the hard stuff like I felt that Gumbrecht book did.

February 21
12. Naoki Sakai, _Translation and Subjectivity: On "Japan" and Cultural Nationalism_... Recommended by Walter Lew. Also very helpful. Something about reading someone writing a national literature other than the U.S. was eye opening. I made a lot of notes about how Sakai looked at things and thought I might try and use his vision in the future. Great chapter on Cha also.

February 28
13. Joan Retallack, _Poethical Wager_... I assigned this for class so I'm not sure it counts. But since it just came out I couldn't read it before the semester started and the book is so beautifully dense that I get nothing else read this week.

March 6
I carry a bunch of books with me on a trip to Seattle and Vancouver but don't get much reading done. However beautiful drive around Olympic peninsula. End up bringing a bunch of books home from Vancouver and reading them on the airplane home. But they are poetry and don't "count." Among them Jeff Derkson's _Transnational Muscle Car_, Erin Moure's _O Cidadon_ (which I love and causes me to think about making her my new favorite poet for a few months), George Stanley's _A Tall, Serious Girl: Selected Poems 1957-2000_. All are good, make me think.

March 13, March 20
This is where I get behind. Also there are notes in my calendar that I'm getting lots of headaches. The headaches make it hard for me to read because neon green lights dance before my eyes and get in the way of the words (which is one reason I'm typing this up actually; I've got a headache and can't read; somehow typing is more instinctual, requires less eyesight).

March 27
14. Maria Rosa Menocal, _The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain_... (already discussed)

April 3
15. Kristin Ross, _Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture_... Her book on Rimbaud really changed my life. This one was useful. The cultural studies type stuff felt less rigorous. But there is a good chapter in here on the concept of man. Of obvious use to "the project.

At this point I'm officially done. 15 books in 15 weeks more or less (April 10 is week 15). But somewhere along this process I start to realize I like reading a book of criticism a week and decide to continue on.

April 10, April 17
During this period I abandon a few books. I start a collection of essay by Sartre, _Colonization and Decolonization_ and put it down. I start for the second time Jean Genet's _Prisoner of Love_ and put it down. I spend a weekend in Santa Cruz and that puts me behind also.

16. Doris Sommer, editor, _Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations_... I like Sommer's critical work a great deal. I find it smooth to read and also very useful. This one was a bit of a forced read. The essays included aren't as good as her work. There is an excerpt from Yunte Huang's book, which is good, but something I had already read.

April 24
17. Rudolf Mrazek, _Engineers of Happy Land : Technology and Nationalism in a Colony_... Another one of those history books that concentrates on things. I went to a lecture by Bruce Robbins last week where he was complaining about commodity books (the history of tea or coffee, the story of mauve, cod: the fish that changed the world, etc.). So I'm suddenly a little more suspicious of these books about things (also the Gumbrecht which I keep returning to). One of the risks of these books is that the humans get written out and the history of tea appears as if its plantations are inevitable and natural. This one is focused on colonialism in Indonesia. I found it useful. Really interesting last chapter on Pramoedya Ananta Toer. But I have to admit there were not a lot of humans in the earlier chapters.

18. Kristin Ross, _May 68 and Its Aftermaths_... I came back for more Ross. This is an amazingly useful book. Really interesting look at what happens to May 68 in the 80s and 90s. Helped me understand things in the US a little more. I highly recommend it. Not at all useful for the “project” though.

This week... Michael Warner's _Publics and Counterpublics_. But I'm only about thirty pages into it.

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