Literature Vs Linguistics

Students have the most bizarre fear of literature.

A student is choosing her Senior project topic.

“I don’t want to do anything related to literature,” she says aggressively. “I’m interested in linguistics.”

“That’s fine,” I say. “Which linguistic phenomenon would you like to study?”

“I’m interested in analyzing how the patriarchy silences women in the novels by Luisa Valenzuela.”

“That’s a  great topic,” I say. “But what makes you think it belongs to the field of linguistics?”

“Because the patriarchy silences them, so they can’t express themselves. That’s language, so it’s linguistics,” the student explains.

Sometimes it feels like they are willing to do any kind of analysis as long as they manage to convince themselves it doesn’t have to do with literature.

How Well Do You Know Clarissa: My Favorite Novel in English

Have you tried guessing my favorite novel in Spanish? If that proved a little too confusing, let’s try to guess my favorite novel in English based on its opening lines.

A. “Dusk–of a summer night. And the tall walls of the commercial heart of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants–such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable. And up the broad street, now comparatively hushed, a little band of six,–a man of about fifty, short, stout, with bushy hair protruding from under a round black felt hat, a most unimportant- looking person, who carried a small portable organ such as is customarily used by street preachers and singers. And with him a woman perhaps five years his junior, taller, not so broad, but solid of frame and vigorous, very plain in face and dress, and yet not homely, leading with one hand a small boy of seven and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books.”

B. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?””

C. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”

D.  “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning–fresh as if issued to children on a beach. What a lark! What a plunge!”

E. “To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white slab so that only the black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires, and if you don’t quit staring at that line and don’t take a few deep breaths and slap yourself hard on the back of the neck you’ll hypnotize yourself and you’ll come to just at the moment when the right front wheel hooks over into the black dirt shoulder off the slab, and you’ll try to jerk her back on but you can’t because the slab is high like a curb, and maybe you’ll try to reach to turn off the ignition just as she starts the dive.”

So – which is my favorite? And my second favorite? And my least favorite?

Small-Scale Global Warming

Every conversation with a doctor’s receptionist proceeds according to the same scenario.

With every question, the receptionist’s manner grows progressively frostier until she asks in a voice whose temperature could freeze the Black Sea, “What is your health insurance, Ma’am?”

“Healthlink,” I say.

This produces an instant and profound change.

“We are looking forward to seeing you, my dear,” the receptionist purrs in a warm and welcoming voice.