I went to my lovely new air conditioned office today (hello, Northeastern heat wave!) with the best of intentions: move the hard drive, plug in speakers, and get down to work on an article. I’m nothing if not ambitious, upon the realization that it’s almost July, for crying out loud. JULY!! When did that happen? Wherefore art thou, June ’07?
All of the above happened, and I had an additional bonus: I did a sound check with my colleague who has the great misfortune to have the office adjacent to mine. I wanted to see exactly how loud I could turn up the speakers before she could hear the bass in her office. I almost went so far as to draw a red line on the volume knob (shades of my high school stereo), but I think I can eyeball it. And with volume set at reasonable levels, I dove into the stack of reading that I’d set aside for the day.
It was a bit of a shock to me to realize how hard it is to read. I’d set the bar pretty low, to start. I was working with the classic piece by Gayle Rubin “The Traffic in Women,” which I had read and discussed extensively with my theory class in the spring. I really just wanted to refresh my memory about her ideas on kinship systems and exchange so that I could begin to think about the role and representation of rape in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Rubin is smart, and she’s weaving together ideas and critiques of Marx, Levi-Strauss, and Freud, but she’s not Derrida, for crying out loud. On a word level, I’m not running for my dictionary. But despite having taught the piece 2 months ago (where, or where did June go?), I found myself stumbling over her gloss of “capital,” her explication of Mauss’s gift, etc. Holy crow, I’ve forgotten how to read!
In the end, I turned off the speakers, and sat back in the chair and concentrated really hard. Eventually, I was able to read a paragraph without having to back up and re-read, and re-re-read. Whew.
The moral of this story, I think, is that I’ve gone far too long without reading criticism. Apparently, my steady, summer literary diet of Allure, Blueprint, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction is the equivalent of Twinkies, hot dogs and a box of mixed varieties of Lay’s potato chips—it’s making the workout more like catch-up than marathon training. Apparently I need the theory equivalent of a multivitamin and fiber. What would that be, exactly? Nietzsche and Judith Butler?
So, from now on, I’m paying more attention to my reading diet. All suggestions can be left in the comments.