Early this morning we set out towards the St. Louis airport. I entered the airport’s name in the GPS but the GPS glitched. It has been acting weirdly since we left it in the scorching heat overnight last summer.
What was really creepy, though, was the manner in which the GPS glitched. Instead of showing us how to get to St. Louis, it showed us how to go to Quebec, Canada.
Now, please tell me: how on Earth did the GPS know we were traveling to Quebec today? We never used it to go to Canada and never drove to Canada before or since we got the GPS. So it isn’t like it has Quebec on the list of favorites. We didn’t even discuss Quebec around the GPS, as far as I can remember.
Is this creepy or what?
If anybody has an explanation, please share it.
In her brilliant essay A Room of One’s Own, one of the greatest modernist writers Virginia Woolf says that she prefers Jane Austen’s novels to those of Charlotte Brontë. Woolf, a passionate feminist, rejects Brontë’s feminism in favor of Austen’s ultra-patriarchal writings because Brontë’s novels scare Woolf with their passion, their engagement, their rage. Woolf, who wrote angry, powerful essays, chose to create the kind of novels that are very sophisticated and beautifully crafted in terms of their form but completely insipid* in terms of their content.
And this is precisely why I don’t enjoy modernist art all that much. I recognize its importance and read about it obsessively. Many modernist artists themselves, however, bore me. Their art strikes me with how well it is done technically. Every work of theirs is like a country that can be explored in perpetuity. You can read even a short story or a small poem a hundred times and still discover something new every time you approach it. However, in terms of ideas, passion, political engagement – all of the things I really value both in life and in art, that is – there is nothing. As much as I admire form, I still need content, and modernist writers often fail to provide me with the kind of content I can enjoy.
Not all modernists are like that, of course. Alongside the insipid Woolf, Joyce, Valle Inclán, Akhmatova, Borges, D.H. Lawrence, and Henry Miller** there are writers like Kafka, Faulkner, Tsvetaeva, who don’t abandon passion and give up on content in order to produce beautiful form. To give just one example, Marina Tsvetaeva once removed two incredibly beautiful verses from a poem after she discovered that the flower she mentioned in them did not grow in the area described in the poem. The poet had spent weeks crafting those verses but then destroyed them because beauty was not more important than reality to her.
The advent of modernism did not completely cancel out realist art, however. The US literature, for instance produced a middling modernism and a weak, boring post-modernism***. At the same time, it created phenomenal works of realism / naturalism long after nobody in Europe knew how to do it. Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Steinbeck are amazing and deserve to be read as much as the great XIXth-century realists.
* Yes, in my opinion, who else’s? I have read every single one of Woolf’s novels and, for all their sophistication, all they made me feel was boredom.
** Yes, I know you are appalled by this list because it contains your favorite writer. This beautiful range of emotions you are experiencing right now is what these writers fail to make me feel, and that is precisely why I dislike them.
*** Breathe in very deep and don’t get too agitated. Everybody is entitled to their vision, and you can always share your own in the comments.
And this is what a sleepless night does to a person. I will now have to explain to my entire extended family why I look like I taught 14 courses instead of 4 this semester. I publish this photo on purpose so that the family members who read the blog see it and know what to expect.
Insomnia always comes at the worst possible moment, doesn’t it? I never feel sleepless when I can stay in bed all day long next day, catching up on sleep. I mean, why couldn’t it have attacked me at any other day in the past 3 weeks? Why can’t I be snoozing happily in a warm bed instead of sitting in the kitchen waiting for coffee to brew and knowing that I have to catch an international flight in a few hours?
I blame the middle-of-the-night phone call but it isn’t really the call’s fault. I wouldn’t have slept anyway.
So to avoid letting the night go to waste completely, I decided to finish East Lynne, a XIXth-century novel from my Classics Club challenge. I will post a review when I’m done but for now I can say that I absolutely love love love this wonderful novel.
Oh, and one more thing. I got so tired packing and wrapping gifts (an autistic packing gifts is a very sorry sight, folks) that instead of a full, sealed bottle of Dominican rum I almost wrapped an opened, slightly depleted bottle. That would be the shame of the century. Can you imagine a worse gift than a bottle of alcohol that has been partaken of already? Somehow this seems like a particularly horrible gift to give. It is like saying, “We tried it and it wasn’t too good but we know that you are so desperate to get shit-faced that you’d lap up any old leftover moonshine, so here, have a happy drunken New Year!”
As a respectable married lady (a.k.a. boring old frump), I never get any calls in the middle of the night. This is why it never occurs to me to turn off the phone’s sound at night.
And, of course, I just had to get a phone call at 1 am precisely on the night when I have to get up at 4 am for an early flight. Guess who will not be getting any sleep tonight.