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Showing posts from February, 2016

The Inhumane George Eliot?

Among the monographs I sometimes entertain myself by thinking I'd like to write (Eighteenth-Century Insensibility, Romanticism Materialism...) is a slight fascination with what we might call 'inhumanism' in the nineteenth century. I don't mean so much the inhumane as violence or evil, but simply the points where humanity meets it own edge: Shelley's early reflections on necessity in Queen Mab and its notes, for example.

I was reminded of 'inhumanism' in this week's seminar, which were on George Eliot's unusual gothic novella The Lifted Veil. On asking some students to analyse the extravagant closing scene - where a servant is temporarily and horrifyingly revivified through blood transfusion - it was pointed out that all the characters respond to the spectacle in ways that suspend their humanity:
The lips continued to murmur, but the sounds were no longer distinct.  Soon there was no sound--only a slight movement: the flame had leaped out, and was be…

A Portrait of the Artist as an Inauthentic Man: Leaving the Atocha Station

I came into seminars last week on Ben Lerner's 2011 novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, to find that the lecture had apparently been one of those strongly polemic ones that get the students talking. Lerner's text follows an American writer - over-intellectual and self-deconstructing at best; pretentious and manipulative at worst - as he drifts through a literary fellowship in Madrid, and the lecture had critiqued it on the grounds that it was emptily postmodern, unoriginal, a work of existentialist bad faith.

I should confess immediately that I differ from my colleague. I like this novel: I found it intelligent, funny, sharply written, evocative and occasionally profound. That, I guess, is just subjective. But I think the lecture did raise important questions about 'authenticity' which can be discussed and perhaps disputed in more concrete terms. I actually think the novel is deeply concerned with authenticity - in life and in art - but in a way that is anything but sha…