Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Five Books Meme

I have been tagged by Daniel and Tonya at Hebrew and Greek Reader. In this meme, I will give the five books or authors who have shaped my thought the most, whether I like them or not, whether through agreement or opposition, etc. And they can be enduringly or immediately influential. This meme started not too long ago with Ken Brown at COrthodoxy. So, here are my five. For those who read my blog regularly, there probably will not be too many surprises.

1. M.M. Bakhtin. Most immediately, this Russian has profoundly influenced not only the way I approach my work--although he does that--but how I view day-to-day interactions. I was introduced to his thought through his essay on the "Chronotope" in the collected volume, The Dialogic Imagination. I use the Chronotope extensively in my dissertation. Since then, I have branched out to his other works and others' use of him. But even his concepts of the "utterance" from simple day-to-day speech-units to complex utterances of literary genres that interact dialogically is brilliant, see especially Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Or check out his reading of heteroglossia in Dostoevsky's works in The Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. I think that is enough for now from Bakhtin, but I cannot get enough of his work! I think Dialogic Imagination is a good start if you aren't familiar with his work.

2. Erich Auerbach's Mimesis. This is one of the first books assigned to me in graduate school. I took a class on the history of interpretation of Genesis 22 with Alan Segal and David Carr, and Auerbach's opening chapter is the famous reading of "Odysseus' Scar." I don't think I realized it at the time and while I do not always agree with his interpretations, Auerbach's close attention to detail and astute reading not only in terms of content, but in terms of style has influenced my own reading habits. For you Dante fans out there, check out his Dante: Poet of the Secular World.

3. Michel de Montaigne's Essays. I have only come to Montaigne this past year, but I find him very refreshing. Again, I don't always agree with what he says, but more how he says it. He is a brilliant stylist. It is as if you are catching him in the moment of thinking, even though he revised and polished his essays over and over again. I like his concept of the imagination, and the role of the imagination in the fashioning of the self, in a self that lives insistently and creatively in the present. Reading him is a whole experience in itself. I also get this same group of feelings--reading as an entire experience, catching one in the moment of thinking, etc.--when I read Walter Benjamin.

4. Although it may sound cheesy or prosaic, Shakespeare's Hamlet. Although it is not my favorite work today (Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is), I was never really interested in literature until I read it in high school. None of the other plays I had read until then--Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, etc.--had every caught my interest. After reading (I think the Dover thrift edition of it), I developed a much keener interest in literature. It was at that point when I realized what amazing things could be done in the English language. I am so glad I get to teach King Lear for my literature class these days. In fact, this weekend I plan to see a free production of The Tempest.

5. I am having difficult coming up with a fifth book or author. As I look over the books that line the walls in my itty bitty apartment, I find many that I find wonderful, insightful, impressive, inspiring, and even of shaping importance for my research, but nothing really on the level of the four mentioned. And I fear I would just add something to fill out the meme and it would not be something or someone truly influential for me. And so until the time comes when I find something of the caliber of importance of the other four, I will leave the fifth slot vacant for Elijah.

Ok. Those are my five (or nearly so). You probably will notice not a single author or book within my own field of study. I always find the greatest influences for my thought and how I approach ancient Jewish and Christian literature derive from those in completely different fields. There is a certain cross-fertilization of knowledge that I find the most helpful or insightful in approaching these ancient texts anew.

I hereby tag: James McGrath, Ken Schenk, April DeConick, Justin Dombrowsky (It will give him an excuse to blog on something), and Liam (for a medievalist's perspective).


J. K. Gayle said...

"I always find the greatest influences for my thought and how I approach ancient Jewish and Christian literature derive from those in completely different fields."

I always love this about you.

Questions re: your list -

1. Do you think Mikhail Epstein's "translingualism" is a fair gloss for Bakhtin's "polyglossia"?

2. Any particular beef with Auerbach's interpretations?

3. Agree with Nancy Mairs that Montaigne's project begins to sound "feminist"?

4. Could Shakespeare have been a woman (as Robin Williams and John Hudson theorize)?

5. One of my favorite posts of yours explains your difficulty in declaring your book #5. I realize you may've only read that one chapter of Eco's On Literature, but it sounds like a good candidate some day.

PS my comment questions are those you put in my head. Please don't feel like you ahve to answer any of them.

JD said...


...you're right. :)

Jared Calaway said...

1. I would not call it a gloss, but perhaps one could think of his "translingualism" as one of many aspects or possibilities inherent in "polyglossia," which I take to be a larger issue.

2. Not particularly, but I am often amazed at how often after reading Auerbach's astute observations that you can take his interpretations almost the opposite direction that he does. It is easy to turn him on his head.

3. Maybe Montaigne's project can be construed in that way, or perhaps he laid some groundwork in deconstructing dominant philosophical systems that feminists also do. I can see some overlapping issues, and can see the potential of reading Montaigne this way. Montaigne contains the possibilities, but it probably does not characterize his "project."

4. I doubt Shakespeare was a woman, but I would not be surprised if he plagiarized here or there, including insights from women.

5. I have read all of Eco's On Literature. I enjoyed it, but have not found it profoundly influential as of yet in how I perceive and approach my own research. Although I like his idea that literature teaches us how to die.