The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

two books in the Poconos

So we had a successful weekend in the Poconos, renting a garage apartment from someone and just exploring a little. Saw a Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons game, hit the outlet mall, even took the boy to the water park. I also managed to read two books: David Lodge's classic academic satire SMALL WORLD and Edmund Wilson's even more classic lit-crit study AXEL'S CASTLE.

Lodge's book is very funny and very of its time--the early 1980s, when the theory wars dominated the academy. Basically, it chronicles a bunch of jet-setting theory academics over a summer. They're all positioning themselves to nab a UNESCO chair in literary criticism. It's more the story of academic superstars than the usual academic novel (THE GROVES OF ACADEME, say, or my personal favorite STRAIGHT MAN), which tends to deal with people in a small backwater school.

AXEL'S CASTLE I read in preparation for my upcoming graduate seminar and also because I've never really read much Edmund Wilson. It's a good overview of Wilson's view of the Symbolist tradition in literature and what he sees as its ultimate bankruptcy. Written in the early 1930s, the book embodies the growing drive for literature to perform a social function, and came at a time when Wilson was attracted by the Soviet Union and by Popular Front-style cultural movements here (as were so many writers and critics in the 1930s).


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