I read this profile of James Wood and Claire Messud some time ago, and, especially after all the interesting coverage of The Woman Upstairs, finally broke down and decided I had better not damn the dame for all my ambivalence towards the man. So I’m finally reading The Emperor’s Children.
Perhaps inevitably, it contains some sidewise commentary on David Foster Wallace via a character’s overly earnest attempts to educate himself. It’s played for humor, I think, but it’s one of those referents that comes so loaded with Messud’s husband’s very public views that the whole thing lends itself to a post-modern meta-interpretation akin to that which Wallace himself described in E Unibus Pluram (though that was of course concerned with television).
(Aside: I have just now realized that my copies of How Fiction Works and Consider the Lobster sit only three books apart on my shelf. Perhaps I should remedy that.)
Re-reading part of E Unibus Pluram has made me appreciate anew how the discussion of these dynamics in television continues to dominate pop culture. See also Bob’s Burgers, a show that Seth and I have been really enjoying. A consistent thread of the show’s humor is metacommentary, see for example an episode called The Belchies (Goonies), the pleasurable genius of which is better experienced than explained, which brings me to Wood, who never met a pleasure that couldn’t be picked apart for a thorough analysis. Or maybe he could, I don’t know. I’m being hyperbolic here because I so thoroughly lack that sort of critical impulse.
I found my copy of the Irresponsible Self, which I intended to read in tandem with The Emperor’s Children, but I didn’t get past the introduction, in which Wood acknowledges the pitfalls of dissecting comedy, then proceeds to do just that with his maiden example. The dissection proceeds for several paragraphs, becoming more and more precise, until I just had to slam the book closed in a full-body paroxysm of critical theory aversion.
Where does this aversion come from? I’m not completely sure, but back in January, New York Magazine published a great article called Why You Never Truly Leave High School, which got me thinking. My sophomore English class was taught by this chipper creature who single-handedly destroyed my love for To Kill a Mockingbird with her over-explication of it. This is, again, a bit hyperbolic, and there are I think at least as many if not more inspiring and lovely teachers than those whose Cliff Notes-level insights into a book cheapen your affection for it…but maybe that experience was the point at which I closed myself off to critical theory.
Such is my distaste for that teacher that I kind of modeled a character after her in a short story I just revised. It’s really more of a parody than a model, actually, but in this latest revision, I was all, what the hell. And I gave her the actual teacher’s name. It wasn’t a very kind impulse on my part, and I’ll probably change it back, but it gave me a tiny thrill to do it.