I ended the last post having finished The Future of Invention Rhetoric, Postmodernism, and the Problem of Change by John Muckelbauer (SUNY UP, 2008), which I read while putting another book on hold, David Denby’s Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World (Simon and Schuster 1996). Tonight I dwell in the many directions each one of these leads.
1. David Denby’s Great Books: The 1990’s (beginning in 1987 and ending in 2001, reasons to follow) is the refrain that follows my page-turning of Great Books. Shocked by my pleasure in reading this book, I find I literally hang on the barely-present plot. Me: “How will he fare with Hegel?” I worry. For Hegel. For Denby. For my memory of Hegel. Then it all works out and we’re onto Mill. Boring. But then I flip over a few pages and realize that we’re hitting the Austen chapter. Me again: “Im so stressed…what will I do if he says even one disparaging remark against Elizabeth or Emma?”
But mostly the direction I take in reading this is back. I am haunted here by a problem of history. What were the culture wars of the 1980’s and 1990’s? Was “culture” really about content? (The content was the “what” of books: the “canon” thought important to read in American higher education.) The history of the present drives my pursuit of that near past. Are the “culture wars” of today about form as they seem to be? (Now we talk about space, place, and shape…the “how” of literacy…what genre, media, interface to consume or connect to or remake.)
2. John Muckelbauer’s The Future of Invention Not a book for pleasure, but engendering a kind of enthusiastic pursuit nonetheless. Like many other scholarly works, I will need to hang around it for a while, until its purpose becomes clear. Here, the direction is forward. The future, the promise. I chase the find, not what was found. “Can I see complexity working here?” “What theory is at play that will bring me…not home, but to some place where all the questions connect?” I seek confusion and progress, not relief.
Here’ s one example: Because figuring out where I land on “complexity” as way of describing humanistic pursuits haunts my work, I wonder: “What is “complex” about what Muckelbauer says about audience?” (Audience—the “reader”—is central to any version of history or vision of culture.). And “can I write that?” Here’s what he actually says about audience:
As a situated practice, rhetoric cannot simply filter situations and audiences through a generalized methodology, regardless of how intricate, flexible, or contextual that methodology may be. But that does not mean that situatedness and singularity cannot be taught. Indeed, we might say that within the very practices of generality, singular situatedness is always being taught (though in multiple ways and with diverse effects).
Wait. What does that definition of rhetoric do to my reading direction? I’m distracted; I think this post started out readable. It’s veering into impenetrable. What happened?
Not the inability to read, but the pursuit of meaning that prohibits reading on. Lost in the labyrinth, no where to go but the the messy middle of the present.
Reading block is not reader’s block. This isn’t about me, or any subject for that matter. It’s about navigating reading. And that will be a relief to know once writing block sets in. Hopefully, by next week.