Sick in Santa Barbara on a Stunning Friday but Happily Ensconced in Book Nook With Book Reviews and Macbook Pro

First night in book nook. Considerably more chipper and less congested.


Not a great picture of me but I am so absolutely in love with my book nook or “jolly corner” as a friend called it before I left for NYC/DC. I was in Kalorama (D.C.) a month ago today and miss everyone a lot but it’s been a good month and I really did have a blast in LA between Roosevelt Hotel, Royal Ballet movie with Mom and my new friend not from FB, recently here from Newton, MA.

And we finally got the WiFi working in my apartment where I will be spending more and more time as I began to work in earnest on my memoir and also, I hope, whatever reviews I start to write for other publications if they come through.  I have such a great reading chair now and I have forgotten so much of what I studied in graduate school. Just this morning, searching (in vain) for a box of Kleenex to stave off onslaught of snot which mysteriously developed somewhere between midnight when I went to sleep and seven when I arose, I found a box with about a dozen books I thought had been lost in the move, including Stephen Gill’s Wordsworth and the Victorians, a book which collects things most Romanticists and Victorianists know but still a very helpful and enjoyable read with lots to offer those who don’t know the 19th C very well.

I also found my marked-up copy of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being, an autobiography of sorts. I read it in 1997 for a grad seminar on theory of autobiography, which is to me sort of the lit crit equivalent to the highly technical personal identity theory within Analytic philosophy. “Autobiography” is a contested term for a genre which includes many kinds of “self-writing” and raises difficult and important questions about truth, self-presence and other philosophical and broadly psychoanalytic questions. (There is of course, both within philosophy (Hegel) and psychoanalysis (Lacan and others) the problem of the “split subject” and both are quite different but in general the extent to which a writer of memoir has privileged access to his/her truth is quite vexed.) I wrote my seminar paper on Becket’s Company and I have seen it around in the last year but I can’t locate it at the moment.

The other book I had been trying to find for some time was Richard Brodhead’s edition of Charles Chesnutt’s Conjure Woman and Other Tales. As I have written before on Victorian Chick, Dick Brodhead, then Dean of Yale and now President of Duke, was very good to me. I took his 19th C American course at Yale in 1994 and wrote on Emily Dickinson for a marvelous T.A. named Margo Crawford, who went on to teach at Vassar and recently contributed an essay to the Cambridge Companion to African-American Fiction . The paper took as its point of departure a stunning book by Christopher Benfrey, a Cavell-inspired study called Emily Dickinson and the Problem of Others.

Margo, who had gone to Swarthmore for undergrad with my very close friend and fellow debater from high school two years earlier, became my friend and allowed me to write the equivalent of a seminar paper for this large lecture at the Yale University Art Gallery, across from the Yale Center for British Art (the Mellon Center) and that paper–26 pages plus footnotes–probably got me three graduate M.A./Ph.D fellowships and revealed most clearly the critical bent I would follow and cultivate in subsequent years.

Dick wrote my Mellon Fellowship recommendation on the basis of discussion of Emily Dickinson in the context of Stanley Cavell’s great theme–skepticism or the problem of other minds–and while I didn’t get it (probably because in college my extracurriculars were psychoanalysis, working out and surviving the mishigas and angst which manifested themselves in an extremely active dream life which left very little time for social or extracurricular activity), I owe him a lot. It is unfortunate to witness the difficulties in which he has found himself, first at Yale with that civil litigation over the graduate student union and then the really quite tragic situation at Duke with the lacrosse scandal.  I do not understand how things got so totally screwed up at Duke, but I guess sometimes things just go terribly wrong, to the chagrin and sorrow of all involved.

I want to send Dick my Edith Wharton piece in The Weekly Standard because I read House of Mirth for him and I think he would be very happy for me, even if I wrote it for a Neoconservative publication and took a kind but definitely critical stance toward Cultural Studies ( But Dick is a product of Yale–undergrad, grad, faculty, administration–and while he is an Americanist in the Cultural Studies orbit to some extent, he’s also a traditional scholar as well-read in British as American.

Dick is also not one of the annoying jargon-ridden critics who have made such a mess of the literary-critical landscape in America (“patriarchy,” “hegemony,” “problematize” etc). He works on many things, including African-American literature, but he also read Beowulf in Old English and I hold him in the highest possible regard as a man and a scholar. I met with him after graduation in his office in SSS (Dean’s office, not an English department office in Lindsly-Chittenden on Old Campus) and we had a very poignant discussion about that difficult moment when you realize your education and reading has surpassed that of your parents, even when they are prominent and successful professionals.

Even the most accomplished and learned legal scholars or federal bankruptcy judges generally don’t know history or English the way that graduate students or humanities professors do, and in my case, feeling that I was “leaving Dad behind” intellectually weighed very heavily on my heart and mind.

Philip Terzian, the Literary Editor of The Weekly Standard, appeared on C-Span on August 11, 2010 to discuss his slim, incisive and very well-reviewed volume about FDR and Eisenhower (Architects of Power) and like me, Phil was the child of extremely successful professional parents. But as learned as his mother and father were (law and medicine/science, respectively), he says (tellingly), “They were not what I would call literary, but they were readers.”  Now my parents were both English majors and literature mattered intensely to my father, but he went to WWII after only three semesters at UCLA and never finished college, going straight to law school on the GI Bill. Mom is generally a very much more easygoing person without this sort of deep-seated internal conflict, and she loves to read (reads very quickly). But for Mom, nothing in the realm of ideas pierces her to the core such that some relation to an idea or text would destabilize or threaten her emotional and intellectual foundation.

By contrast, Dad’s yearning, his almost insatiable thirst for knowledge, was denied and he went straight to professional school. This was a source of anguish to him (though, in the scheme of the other intense anguish under which my father labored nearly all his life, almost trivial) and I was a very sensitive little girl. In my analysis, doing the pre-verbal work, I realized just how intuitive and sensitive I was to the needs of both parents, but particularly Dad. And it wasn’t as though this was all theoretical; I could feel the anger emanating from him and it wasn’t as if I came home with a paper and he took exception. It was that my whole world and mind was shifting and my role in that household could not remain the same. When you are the only child of parents like mine (even if you have older half-siblings out of the house, 11 and 18 years older), the dynamic is entirely different, more intense and enmeshed.  It’s nuclear.

For many reasons, then, I felt I was responsible at once to “bring Dad along with me” throughout my Yale English journey and also not to threaten his carefully crafted and quite rigid intellectual system with ambiguities which he would regard as threatening or destabilizing. This is a very difficult balancing act for a freshman in college, who feels on the most fundamental and even epistemological level, responsible for her father. This goes far beyond the guilt at failing to meet an essential longing or need in a parent for knowledge or happiness or something equally amorphous. It was a sense of terror that the direction in which my mind was developing might genuinely put Dad at risk, might threaten the entire foundation on which his life was founded or based.

Needless to say, this is a fairly intense and enormously confusing burden to carry inside of you (particularly since these deeper risks were not yet verbalized or made conscious in analysis and I was merely feeling the intensity of these emotional conflicts as I plowed through the most intense and difficult literary and philosophical texts I had encountered). All this was, along with other less sophisticated emotional dynamics which occur in families where not everyone is at this level of mental functioning or education,  at the crux of my breakdown after my first term at Yale. I was the only freshman in Berkeley College to get 4 As with no minuses, but left for Christmas break and did not return until the fall of 1992 after 18 months of analysis.

Dick is very liberal, apparently more so now than before and I must say, relative to all this liberal indoctrination business you hear about incessantly: not once in a semester-long course, did he utter a single political word. It is nonsense that Yale, at least in the 1990s, was “indoctrinating” students in English. Not in philosophy, history , political science, anthropology either (and you know they’re all a bunch of commies of course, along with the sociologists, though I do think sociology is something of a bullshit discipline, Max Weber notwithstanding–and you could study Weber just as well in another social science discipline).

As my WiFi network for my apartment, I selected George Eliot’s most evil villain, one of the main prototypes for Henry James in Portrait of a Lady. In the final chapter of my Eliot dissertation, Ethical Fictions: George Eliot and the Narration of Life, I discussed the ways in this Eliot anticipated the moral fiction of James which became the locus of philosophy/literature work in the 1980s.

I have written before on Victorian Chick that the chapter relied heavily on the work of Robert Pippin at University of Chicago, most famous now as a Hegelian and author of the 1989 Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness, though initially a Kantian, who has really crossed over into aesthetics and literary criticism.  In the world of Continental philosophy, while you’re usually more one than the other (a Kantian or an Hegelian), you’re an Idealist critic/philosopher in the general Kantian-Hegelian orbit and I still miss the world of philosophers very much.

Temperamentally, philosophers are emotionally grounded and stable than literary critics as a rule, particularly in the age of Cultural Studies. The vibe at a literary conference like the Modern Language Association (MLA) is quite different from the vibe at a large or roughly equivalent philosophy conference such as the American Philosophical Association (APA), whose Pacific Division annual meeting is currently underway in Seattle. It was too much money and too big a deal to go this year though I could have stayed with relatives as my aunt, uncle and cousin are all there. I went in 2010 to San Francisco and in 2011 to San Diego. Since it’s in Seattle this year, I would guess it will be in Los Angeles or Oregon next year and I plan to go.

I had planned to blog about my emotionally resonant experience getting back to the gym. I’m so over this 13 or so pounds hanging on from my accident a year ago and it’s seriously beginning to annoy me so I am getting off my ass and going to the gym 5 times a week for the next two months. I went at 8PM, my old time for many years and got to catch up with my two favorite cleaning ladies, both of whom know my name and with whom I converse in Spanish.

I made them laugh when I said (these are women who saw me naked daily in the locker room for a decade, after all, at a size 2, 120 pounds), I’d gained weight and that at 40 now (“Cuarenta? No puedo creerlo!”) I’d become very lazy. I forgot the word–“floja”–and we all had a good laugh about that. I took pictures in a real glam gym outfit–J’s huge PJs, a tiny tummy top Aunt Suzy brought me from an outlet and nearly 4-yr-old hot pink Nike Airs which do not go with the red plaid of the PJs. It’s a good Homeless Chic outfit. Here I am both in pseudo-splits and half-splits in my second bedroom, blessedly vacant and ready to be re-invented as yoga room with the prints I have at J’s of winter scenes in NYC.

Here is another in closer to the splits than the picture above. 






But I haven’t eaten since my omelette at Jeannine’s this morning and want to get miso soup, a couple pints, at Shintori Sushi. This is not my regular sushi joint in the neighborhood but their miso is the best in town and I’m not all that hungry. I guess I will hit CVS for another bottle of that Blackstone Cab on sale for 5.49 (not the regular one; it’s the Winemakers Select originally 10:49) and last night I got Maxim with the savings. Oy. What a worthless magazine! At least Playboy has articles. This is a rag completely devoid of substance but I like Jennifer Love Hewitt, who went through a rough patch and got fat and now is hot and thin again, plugging the TV version of her very honest and enjoyable Lifetime movie, The Client List.

It’s the best movie I have ever seen about prostitution and is based on the true story of a minor beauty queen in the South, married to the all-star football player who got injured and went bankrupt or close to it. She goes to work in a massage parlor which turns out to be a brothel. I saw the big billboards and posters in Times Square and it begins this Sunday, on Easter!

So happy Friday from the disaster of snot (not induced by a kitty) in San Roque nevertheless blessed out in her apartment’s new book nook!

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