Let’s Laugh in the Hallowed Halls

May 5, 2010 at 3:54 am (Uncategorized)

Wow, I don’t think I have ever timed a walk and swim quite so well as I have just managed today. I had perfect conditions, and the surf was like a bath, but now that I’m all toasty, dry and warm after a nice hot shower, there’s suddenly a gale force wind and a really insistent downpour crashing about outside, both of which have appeared out of nowhere. It feels like I’m getting away with something! You should see this torrential rain… and this apocalyptic wind…I tell you, it was really quite nicely dodged. Good job, Baby J!

(Had you there for a second, didn’t I? Never fear, I solemnly swear not to morph into one of those women who think their unborn child is destined for weather-influencing greatness… that Mary really had some tickets on herself.)

As it happens, I left for my ultimately very timely walk because I realised I was missing the Book Show on Radio National (now that I am a radio walker, don’t you know…), so I scooted outside for my daily constitutional around the beachfront. More fortuitousness: I scored the very droll Rick Gekowski, whose book Tolkien’s Gown you may remember I loved.

(An aside: in one of those frequent blogosphere coincidences, I’ve just been talking elsewhere to Grad and Fugitive Pieces about John Banville, and about how much I enjoyed his Man Booker-winning novel The Sea, and how it reminded me of Don DeLillo’s oeuvre in that it too was clearly the work of a bona fide wordsmith. It turns out my man Gekoski was on the judging panel that named The Sea the winning work that year, and that Gekoski was instrumental in awarding the prize to Banville. Book trivia. I love it.)

I just love this guy’ s style. Gekoski’s so casually sharp, dry as the centre of Australia, and – a little bit like me – he is someone who fled academia nursing serious doubts about the fun factor of an institutionalised life of letters. An incurable love of literature frankly breeds madness enough without a career spent in the raging lunatic asylum that is your average university English Department.

I was lucky, in that I recognised midway through my PhD that I was in the wrong place, so didn’t tarry once the coast was clear (‘Exit, stage left!’), but Gekoski was a working academic for long enough that he still bears the scars. He said for a long time he was very angry, and that’s not something I can relate to at all – I retain an enormous affection for the entire experience and most of the characters that peopled it. But we share an unfortunate suspicion that the academic life can actually deaden one’s love of the written word. For me, this discomfort was something to do with how proscriptive academic discourse could be about what was worthy and lofty enough to be considered Important Real Literature, and how very little the notion of pleasure seemed to be encouraged as an active ingredient in both writing and reading.

Personally I take enormous pleasure in daily indulging both compulsions, but I would still say there’s a general culture in which the detection of a surfeit of pleasure continues to negatively impact one’s literary credibility. Displays of obvious pleasure – just look at Stephen King’s writing, he’s someone who clearly loves his work, and he’s a true bibliophile to boot – are regarded as somehow low brow, whereas some authors are feted for little more than the unrelenting misery of their message. Well, why shouldn’t we dance if we’re able, readers and writers both? I’m all for a little verbal foxtrot, and I absolutely think irreverence deserves to be taken seriously. It’s one of the things I most love about John Kennedy Toole’s posthumously recognised masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s so funny, and it’s also seriously smart.

Gekoski put me onto A Confederacy of Dunces, as a matter of fact – it’s one of the novels featured in Tolkien’s Gown. And now it’s one of my all-time favourite novels, so I’ll take Gekoski’s recommendation today no questions asked: Double Whammy, by Carl Hiaasen. I’m comin’ for you, Carl. Sit tight.

Hmmm… look at that. Gekoski’s gone and completely hijacked today’s intended post about grappling with the concept of a muse… so guess what’s on the menu for tomorrow?

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6 Comments

  1. Grad said,

    From someone, or somewhere, I got a copy of Strip Tease that I had been meaning to read – but then the awful movie came out and I just couldn’t bring myself to start it. (Thanks, Hollywood). I’ve heard a lot of good things about Double Whammy from my friends who have read it. They tell me that once I read one of Carl Hiassen’s books, I’ll want to read them all…like eating peanuts.

  2. doctordi said,

    Well, I don’t know about Striptease – although yes, apparently that movie was one of the all-time great failures – but Ricky boy made Double Whammy sound like a rollicking good read. I hadn’t heard of it – or I don’t recall having done so – but I’m encouraged further by positive notices from your friends. As long as the peanuts are roasted and salted, I can’t stop.

  3. plumbean said,

    i figured out 80,000 words into my doctoral thesis at edinburgh that i did not want to teach. i liked students but i did not like the feeling of being trapped in university forever. something about the atmosphere is catching and i felt stuck in time. i finished (except for my revsions which i am still doing!) as i could not bear to disappoint my advisors who i love so dearly but i will never publish another academic article again!

    • doctordi said,

      Oh, Plumbean, I do hope you can shrug off those revisions post haste – just DO IT and have it done is my (unsolicited) advice!! It was great finishing and graduating and knowing it was all over. Really over. I highly recommend just biting the bullet, making your corrections and putting it behind you. Yes, I enjoyed being a tutor too, but hated marking and just… well, didn’t want to teach. Or write academic articles. I’d started thinking it would be a great “real job” to have while trying to write fiction, but that was so naive.

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    I’ve just got A Confederacy of Dunces. I don’t remember hearing about Tolkien’s Gown though. I’ll have to read about that one!

  5. doctordi said,

    Cool – I can’t wait to hear what you think!! I so hope you enjoy it!

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