What I’ve Been Reading

On Luches‘ recommendation I picked up Lydia Davis’ The End of the Story. Immediately afterwards, I grabbed all her short story collections and passed several bus and El Rides giggling out loud over her cleverness. I’d known her as the translator of Swann’s Way, but hadn’t known her as an author in her own right beforehand. I find, however, that the grammar games of her prose don’t lend her stories to deeply meditative review with the exception of The End of the Story, about which I’ll have something to post later.

I’ve been reading Woody Allen’s The Insanity Defense. When he picks a genre to mock, such as the philosophical treatise or the detective story, he has me twitching with laughter. I don’t even mind, then, the silliness to which he descends to make a mockery of Kant, Heidegger or Camus. My favorite piece so far is the series of letters that comprise “If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists”:

Dear Theo,
Will life never treat me decently? I am wracked by despair! My head is pounding! Mrs. Sol Schwimmer is suing me because I made her bridge as I felt it and not to fit her ridiculous mouth! That’s right! I can’t work to order like a common tradesman! I decided her bridge should be enormous and billowing, with wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire! Now she is upset because it won’t fit in her mouth! She is so bourgeois and stupid, I want to smash her! I tried forcing the false plate in but it sticks out like a starburst chandelier. Still, I find it beautiful. She claims she can’t chew! What do I care whether she can chew or not! Theo, I can’t go on like this much longer! I asked Cézanne if he would share an office with me, but he is old an infirm and unable to hold the instruments and they must be tied to his wrist but then he lacks accuracy and once inside a mouth, he knocks out more teeth than he saves. What to do?

To me, this is the perfect blend of imitation, non-sequitor and silliness. In many of the less successful pieces, Allen descends too far into schtick, whereas this is a convincing piece of hysteria applied to an inappropriate subject. Hell, it looks like many of the emails I’ve sent to my brother!

I’m also finishing up Hadot’s What is Ancient Philosophy? I find it informative — a good anodyne to some of the Marxist mytho-criticism of the Greek philosophers that I’ve read in recent years as well as the subsequent structuralist school of criticism on the subject — and have been preparing a longer post about it. I’ll say one thing in advance, however, which is that Hadot has a disciplinary reverence for Socrates that I do not share. In point of fact, I consider Socrates one of the biggest historical boobs I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering. More on that shortly.

6 Responses to “What I’ve Been Reading”

  1. Zed Says:

    You must read Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, her roman a clef about the relationship between Hustvedt, her husband Paul Auster, and Davis, who was Auster’s first wife. It’s hilarious. (She portrays Davis as bad mother out of Melanie Klein’s nightmares, and her son as a complete sociopath.) Great literary gossip.

  2. darknessatnoon Says:

    You had mentioned that to me and I’d been planning to ask you again the name of the novel so that I can look it up. Speaking of gossip… did you check out Torpor yet?

  3. Zed Says:

    Lock up your children and pets!Chris Kraus is out on the streets again!

  4. Zed Says:

    Are you responsible for this line in the Wikipedia entry for Kraus?”Some say that ”I Love Dick” is not fiction piggy-backed on non-fiction or vice versa, but a sustained critique of the laziness of its readers.”

  5. darknessatnoon Says:

    ha ha ha. No, I didn’t add that line. Brilliant, though.

  6. darknessatnoon Says:

    Come to think of it, that comment is very characteristic of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were edited in by her.

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