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Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I remember a paper I wrote for a comp lit class as an undergraduate. It was on childhood autobiography from professor Richard Coe. My topic was the child as poet, as remembered by the adult autobiographer. My idea was very simple: if the autobiographer wanted to idealize his or her poetic beginnings, the poem itself could not appear in the autobiography. Only the warm glow of creation would remain, what it felt like to write the poem. On the other hand, if the adult took an ironic distance from the childhood poet, then the poem would be quoted verbatim. So it's the difference between the poetic feeling of the poet, and the poem itself, which cannot convey anything similar to the reader. Quoting the bad childhood poem is automatically deflating. I remember I used Nabokov's Speak Memory. Possibly Portrait of the Artist.

Why do I remember this? It's because it mattered to me. I felt like I was doing literary criticism like a professor would, with original ideas of my own. This is what I wanted to do for my career. I'm still convinced the paper was a good one.


Thomas said...

Hmmm. I wonder if you're trying to idealize your scholarly beginnings here, or taking an ironic distance from the young scholar.

I think the beauty of this post is what Borges called "partial magic".

Jonathan said...

If I'd quoted my own paper that would have been deflating. But I don't have it any more! Only the warm glow remains.

Leslie said...

That *is* a good paper.

Idealize scholarly beginnings, I don't know, what about recognize? I did a huge paper on the Incas in 6th grade, it was my first research paper, and that was when I invented the theory of doing research in 30 minute blocks and writing in 15 minute chunks. I knew I wanted to do research and writing and that I was a Peruvianist. I sit at the desk in the same position now as then. Is this bad?

Jonathan said...

I remember being 15 and telling an adult woman that I preferred Creeley's For Love to Words, and giving a very cogent reason. I still remember what I said and why. Although I don't agree with that exact reason now, I think it was a considered opinion. I remember a lot of the papers I wrote as an undergraduate as though it had been last year. I know the ones that weren't as good, too. I wrote a paper on the Spanish refranero in an anthropology course. And I am still teaching the refranero. I believe in the continuity of your work as a specialist in Peru, from 6th grade to now.