Friday, January 09, 2009

Fragment 0109

Harold Bloom writes about the anxiety of influence, about the writerly anxiety in situating what is being written into what has been written. But there is also a reader’s anxiety.

I settle down to read an essay about Russian literature…

“The Russian realist novel, like the realist novel in the west grew out of existing genres while often using them as foil. Gogol’s Dead Souls is formally a picaresque novel. Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk uses the sentimentalist form of the epistolary novel. His The Double is a ‘realised’ version of a gothic novel. Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Tolostoy’s Cossacks ‘realise’ the exotic novel made popular by Aleksander Bestushev-Marlinsky in the 1830s. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina came from the tradition of the family novel…”

…and get no further. I am beset by an impulse to (re)read immediately all of the works cited to ascertain whether the statement is true, or whether at least I agree with it. This impulse manifests itself as a kind of omnivorous desire: I haven’t read enough, I must read more, I must read everything, in fact, preferably simultaneously, and preferably now. The impossibility of this creates a readerly anxiety. I read Dead Souls, and while I read, I am conscious of all the other Gogol I have not read. These unread works jostle around my reading self, clamouring for attention: I’m next they cry. My desire to do them all justice creates a further anxiety in the attempt to situate what is being read, into what has been read, what has been remembered, and what has not.

4 comments:

ejsandberg said...

This is very true - one does desire to hold, somehow, the totality of the written word inside of one in one moment. But on the other hand, the sort of carefully constructed narrative going on in the essay you quote is fundamentally dishonest in its rejection of uncertainty. Pontificating is not knowing, and much less experiencing.

TonyH said...

I'm familiar with that sort of reading anxiety -- for me sometimes results in getting nowhere with anything. For a time I had a rule to read only one thing at a time to keep me focussed, sometimes it helps me and my own clarity.
He is stating things as true as the other comment says, not so much inviting consideration, learning and response as pressing you back to reexamining those 'facts' (and all at once!). I guess he may have an advantage in having not just read them but having worked on them and so worked out his veiws on them more fully than many readers.

Tim Jones said...

The most interesting thing to me about the excerpt you quote is that it it privileges the realist novel over other genres - not an assumption I share. I haven't read the works of Aleksander Bestushev-Marlinsky, and I love A Hero of Our Time, but even if the Lermontov is better than the Bestushev-Marlinsky, I doubt that I'd see the former as realising the latter.

Murr said...

To be fair, Victor Tarras was writing in this essay about the realist tradition, and comparing/contrasting it with the romantic tradition. It's a very interesting essay, and has lots in it that I agree with. Perhaps 'focuses' is a better word than 'privileges'?