Sunday, August 19, 2007

I am tired of scholarship.

The reason, I hope, will be plain when you read the title of a book reviewed in the BMCR and the following quotation from the reviewer: Feeling History. Lucan, Stoicism, and the Poetics of Passion.

Francesca D'Alessandro Behr [D.] has produced an excellent and thought-provoking study of the figure of apostrophe and its many implications in Lucan's De Bello Civili. New scholarship on the poem will now need to take account of D.'s examination of the narrator's voice in Lucan. Her basic thesis is that Lucan's narrator intervenes in his own narrative, at the expense of the reader's immersion, in order to guide his audience's interpretation of the events he is recounting.
I wonder first what the title is supposed to mean (what's wrong with 'Apostrophe in Lucan', for example?) and I'm at a loss so I'll just accept it and move on. What of the reviewer's statement?

The only reason we might need someone to tell us what the narrator was up to was if we hadn't read Lucan for ourselves. We haven't. In fact, we haven't read very much literature, have we? And because of that an endless run of PhDs does the reading for us, then pats one another on the back for telling us what they got out of it. They're always 'negotiating' or 'privileging' or talking vaguely about poetics or imputing subversion. In this case, we need more than 200 pages to learn that the poet tried to 'guide his audience's interpretation'. Wow.

This kind of scholarship wearies me, and made me stop caring about graduate school a long time ago. I don't like what it means to be a scholar, and I enjoy teaching all the more because of it.


Magister K said...

Well said! What's needed is a bit of the spirit of Housman, or maybe a lot of it, to clear these Augean stables. Keep at 'em!

Mark said...

This post cracks me up! Thanks for making me laugh. All the more so because I'm in the final year of writing a dissertation on Lucan and in fact I'm literally looking at Behr's book as I type, as it is across the room.
Your distress is one that I often share in doing diss research, which is why I laughed so much, but in this case let me defend Behr for a moment because I've read enough of her book to say that she's actually trying to help the situation rather than confusticate it (to borrow a Bilboism)!
The press always picks the titles, so that might not be her fault. Yes, she's arguing that Lucan uses apostrophe to try to guide how the reader should read and respond to the issues raised by the epic. This *should* be obvious, but deconstructionist readings of Lucan (and pretty much everyone else) have tried to say that it's not obvious. Thus the convoluted nature of her argument is required by the fact that she's trying (IMHO) to argue against what has become almost a communis opinio on Lucan over the past couple decades, and she rightly feels she has to do so by using the existing narratology-speak mumbo jumbo. :-)
I actually LOVE Behr's book, because finally here's a scholar who isn't going off on some weird deconstructionist "there is no real meaning" bent and is instead trying to say "Hey, maybe Lucan meant us to take his "editorial comments" seriously.
It is sad that the state of affairs is such that this book had to be written in the first place. :-) But don't blame Behr's book, it's actually fighting against, I believe, all the silliness you dutifully point out elsewhere.