Applications are Hard

Why can’t I write a personal statement?  Why is this so hard?  I know exactly why I want to go back to school, I just can’t put it into a coherent no-more-than-2-pages-single-spaced comprehensive argument.  Should it even be an argument?  It was so much easier when all I had to do was prove I could write.  Now I have to prove that I know something, and that I want to know more.

I spent most of the afternoon reading literary theory and loving it.  I picked up the Princeton Sourcebook in Comparative Literature.  I wish I’d had it years ago, it probably would have helped with my thesis.  I was most intrigued by Franco Moretti’s analysis of literature in terms of evolution and economic theory.  He writes:

“While studying the international market for eighteen–nineteenth century novels, I reached very similar conclusions to Even-Zohar’s.  Here, the crucial mechanism by which the market operated was that of diffusion: books from the core were incessantly exported into the semi-periphery and the periphery, where they were read, admired, imitated, turned into models–thus drawing those literatures into the orbit of core ones, and indeed ‘interfering’ with their autonomous development.”  I want to sit down with Moretti and ask him about the shift of the “core.”

I absolutely agree that trends seem to move outward from the dominant global players, but what happens when Chinua Achebe becomes part of the literary canon?  David Damrosch talks about this in his chapter of Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization, how our canon now includes Achebe and Toni Morrison but now neglects some of the old players, the WordsworthBlakeKeatsColeridgeShelley that used to dominate.  If anything our canon is now even more narrow, as only a handful of authors reach preeminence, the “you must read this to be educated” status.  As a lover of literature with a special interest in the postcolonial and (related) the collision of cultures in this now overstated age of globalization, it gives me great pride that many of my favorites are now in this elevated and tauted category.  Still, where would Neruda be without Verlaine, Marquez without Cervantes?  And going back to my original point, what happens when “the core” of Moretti or “the canon” of Damrosch shifts?  In 50 years will we have forgotten Proust altogether in favor of Rushdie?  What will happen to the so-called original core?  Will American and British writers be drawing on the Indian or Chinese literary traditions?  I hope so.

If globalization brings a democratization of the literary canon, so much the better.  Long before I had even been out of the United States I read about far off places and was transported.  I first read House of Spirits in sixth grade, I purloined a tattered old copy that had belonged to my mom.  I was in the Chilean hacienda, the creaky old house with spectral inhabitants.  I knew Paris, and its gutters all too well, from Les Miserables.  I have been to India, Nepal, ancient China, 19th century Japan, and more centuries of British history through slightly trashy fiction than I care to admit.  More is more.  If there were an Antarctic literature I would read it.  I want to see a world where the core works both ways.  Why shouldn’t South American magical realism seep into modern American fiction?

I think this has helped.  Merci mille fois.


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