dimanche 24 juin 2012

Canons to the left of them...

Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.

This statement by author U.K. LeGuin is clearly unassailably true. The only problem is that this is a category that is infinite from the perspective of any individual. So what should one read? Stephen Ramsey, in his excellent 2010 essay "The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books" [86 kB PDF] estimates that, if you read one book a day from birth, you would need 500 lifetimes to read through the Library of Congress. He proposes a theory of screwmeneutics to address the problem. My mother keeps trying to persuade me to read LeGuin but to do so would contradict my no sci-fi/fantasy heuristic (in this lifetime, perhaps if I had 499 others). I have suffered the flat characterisation and irritating neologism that is so prevalent in the genre when it seemed essential to better understand the internet. (Mssrs Gibson, Sterling, Stephenson, I'm looking at you...) Actually, I have a couple of times attempted the first few pages of The Dispossessed, but it was just too dull for words, so I tossed it, without a moment's regret.
book cover shot of "les Philosophes par les textes," "Guide illustré de la Musique," and "Littérature française XVIIIe siècle"

When I tire of screwing around in English, I make an atavistic retreat to the French. Only this morning came into this little haul, for 5€ from the vide grenier I found at 100m from the front door of the flat this morning.  The French educational system here fires repetitive salvoes of the canon at those bored, suffering teenagers. There seems to be little debate about its composition. All those dead white men, endlessly analysed by successive generations preparing for the bac philo. The French will keep trying to construct a Platonic Republic, Popper be damned. I suppose it gives us all something to talk about in cafés, apart from le foot (of which, the least said, the better).