Permission to Go Insane? Granted.

The smell of brand-new books waiting to be opened and annotated. The fresh pages of notebook paper. The bright-eyed students eager to bury their heads in books, neglecting the beautiful sunny day outside. Spring quarter has arrived! After a difficult but rewarding winter quarter, Sophia Literaria is ready to… go through the torture all over again. ūüôā With the GRE out of the way, I decided to take on extra (22) units this quarter, resulting in the following reading list:

  • Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • shakespeareglobeShakespeare, As You Like It
  • Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
  • Shakespeare, Sonnets
  • Shakespeare, Richard II
  • Shakespeare, Henry IV, part I
  • Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
  • Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • Dryden, All for Love
  • Inchbald, The Mogul Tale
  • southerne_oroonoko_Colman the Younger, Blue-Beard
  • Southerne, Oroonoko
  • Bickerstaff, The Padlock
  • Rowson, Slaves in Algiers
  • Gay, Polly
  • Colman the Younger, Inkle and Yarico
  • Sheridan, Pizarro
  • Steele, Conscious Lovers
  • Lillo, London Merchant
  • Williams, Craft of Argument
  • Booth, Craft of Research
  • Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

Not to mention secondary works, the books I’m reading for my independent research project, submissions for Aleph, and articles for my Information Studies seminar. Lovely. No wonder I indulge in television and comic books/manga in my spare time (the less words the better!).

200px-delirium_sandmanBut the truth is I love being crazy busy. I love the challenge of making sense of a hard passage, the adrenaline of filling up a bluebook during a midterm, the sense of achievement when all those late nights pay off, and the satisfaction of turning in a paper that you’re actually proud of. Maybe I drive myself crazy with work because I like the affirmation at the end of the quarter that, despite all the pain and frustration, I still adore English. Even after struggling (and complaining) through The Faerie Queene all winter quarter, I can still say that there’s nothing else I’d rather be studying. Literature is my soulmate. ūüôā

Brownie points if anyone can guess what three classes I’m taking based on this list (One of them is really easy, but let’s see how specific you can get)! AND extra brownie points if you know where the last picture is from!

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An Unforgiving Art

First entry of the new year! My schedule this quarter is pretty packed – I’m taking three English classes, continuing my work with Aleph, and embarking on an independent research project on early modern authorship. My GRE prep course also starts in less than two weeks so things are going to get hectic in Sophialand.¬†

One of the classes I’m taking is on the history of literary theory and criticism, which has been really interesting so far because it discusses the types of ideas that got me interested in literature in the first place. ¬†I love literary criticism and the debates it has over genre, language, and the nature/purpose of fiction and poetry.¬†

horace

Anyways, I was reading Horace’s Ars Poetica last week and this section really caught my attention:

“In some things, a tolerable mediocrity is properly allowed. A mediocre lawyer or advocate is a long way from the distinction of learned Messalla and doesn’t know as much as Aulus Cascellius, but he has his value. But neither men nor gods nor shop-fronts allow a poet to be mediocre. Just as music out of tune or thick ointment or Sardinian honey with your poppy gives offence at a nice dinner, because the meal could go on without them, so poetry, which was created and discovered for the pleasure of the mind, sinks right to the bottom the moment it declines a little from the top.”¬†

Horace’s opinions of his own profession strongly reflect my own views about studying literature and working in academia. There is no room for mediocrity in my career plans… which I think is just a little scary.

(P.S. Ushered for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra this past weekend. Simply phenomenal. If you ever get a chance to see the “Cellist Twins” Pei-Jee Ng and Pei-Sian Ng in concert, do it! They’re mindblowingly awesome. :))

Confessions of a Theatre Usher

Before the Grammar Nazis come after me, I’d like to absolve myself by saying that I like to spell certain words the British way – i.e. theatre, realise, grey, etc.¬†– It’s my thing, deal with it.

Also, I’d like to draw your attention to my new banner :]¬†(I love MS paint!), which I am quite proud of since I usually get someone to do this type of thing for me.¬†See if you can recognize any of the pictures! Finally, given the frequency that I hope to be attending performances/lectures/readings this year, I’ve added a new category “Stage Spy” for my reviews/thoughts on the¬†events that I go to¬†so be sure to check it out sometime if you want to see what’s new on the LA cultural/literary/intellectual scene.

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Royce HallToday I ushered for UCLA Live for the first time and it was definitely a great start for the season. I love wearing nice high heels and looking “like a lawyer” (although I will have to wait till next time to get my bow tie). I always find it so much fun to dress up and look formal/professional; it makes me feel all grown-up and smart (I silently grieve the extension of the Casual Friday to all five¬†weekdays¬†on the West Coast).

Anyways, one interesting observation I made through the course of today was how people’s manners seem to change based on who they’re dealing with.

Earlier in the day I did some tabling/flyering for Aleph (the UCLA Undergraduate Research Journal for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences – GET PUBLISHED! *not so subtle plug*); passing out flyers, by the way, is probably one of the top five most depressing campus activities to engage in. I’d stand by a walkway, looking as friendly and harmless as possible, and yet people would see the flyers in my hands and veer off their original course (i.e. go to the other side of the street) just to avoid talking to me. As you extend your flyer out, most people will just shake their heads and walk on, but I’ve found that people wearing sunglasses are the worst. They hide behind their stunna shades, feeling empowered, fabulous, and anonymous enough to breeze past people like they don’t exist.

Maybe I just got rejected too many times in a one-hour flyering shift, but when I ushered tonight I was struck by how polite the patrons were. Almost every person who walked through the “center left” doors said “Thank you” when I handed them a program and several smiled or asked how I was. Yes, these are basic pleasantries and perhaps the theatre-going crowd is simply better behaved than the typical college student rushing to class, but the stark contrast just seemed so strange to me.

I realise that etiquette is often seen as an artifice, especially in modern times, but I still believe that it serves an important purpose in social interactions. I never understood how people could be so rude to one another (i.e. cutting in line, swearing, road rage), even if they found¬†the other person¬†to be an inconvenience. Shouldn’t a person with true manners treat everyone equally with the respect that they deserve? Or does etiquette inherently contain different rules for different “classes” of people? More importantly,¬†do manners and etiquette even matter in this modern society of Casual Monday-thru-Friday’s, a tell-all tabloid world that blurs (or eliminates) the line between our private and public selves?

Ok, end of long tangent! I’m actually blogging to gloat about the highlight of my week:¬†ushering for¬†meeting John Updike!

John UpdikeI, Sophia Literaria, was in the same room with a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (I’m actually pretty sure this is the first time this has happened… unless I unknowingly met one during the LA Festival of Books last year).

Sadly, I must confess that I haven’t read any of his novels (although after his talk, I’ve placed The Witches of Eastwick on my list of Books To Read). I know Updike mainly from his vast body of work in The New Yorker, but even without reading his longer pieces of writing, I found myself fascinated by his take on the creative process and the influences of age on his literary perspective. Plus, he was very funny/witty/(dare I say cute?) in¬†that wonderful eccentric grandfather sort of way that always delights me.

I think the thing that struck me the most during the talk was Updike’s rule of publishing a book¬†a year. Updike is an extremely productive writer, who comes out with short stories, reviews, poetry, and novels at an almost insane pace, especially given the length of his career. His body of work is seriously large¬†enough to fill its own bookshelf. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this pace compromises the quality of his writing, if he could be even greater if he had the patience and tranquility to stick to one idea at a time. Updike spoke of great admiration for writers like Saul Bellow who don’t mind “not seeing his name in print” for long periods of time. I almost sense an insecurity in Updike’s admission that he feels antsy when he doesn’t see his work in the public eye for a while.

The Widows of EastwickAnd yet this is not a complete reading of Updike’s motivations for his frenetic pace. I think Updike takes his position as a prominent literary figure seriously and pushes to remain in the public eye in part because he wants to affect change and influence opinion in a world that is increasingly dismissive of writers and literature as a whole. As Updike pointed out, the position of the writer in society has greatly diminished since the times of the Great Depression onward. I feel like most people these days see fiction the same way they see the movies – as a simple form of entertainment. We don’t see our poet laureates as “prophets” or “oracles of truth” anymore. We dismiss the greatest authors of the Western canon as inferior to Rowling and Meyer simply because they are “hard to read”. We¬†dive into¬†racy plotlines instead of¬†immersing ourselves in¬†language that is beautifully wrought; because we’ve abandoned good writing for quick summer reads and trashy paperbacks, good writing has abandoned us.

However, old-fashioned writers like Updike, who still writes the first drafts to his novels by hand, continue to bravely cling to the idea that maybe they can still make a ripple in the social consciousness, despite Harry Potter, fanfiction, and blogs (*pleads guilty*).