Okay, the reason why I haven’t been writing for awhile is because I am packing my brain with nonsense for the upcoming GRE literature subject test. Upcoming as in this time next week. I have only been studying for about a week, and clearly I am not actually studying right now (or ever), as rather than perusing the Norton I am writing this, looking up places in London I can buy a tutu, and wondering whether to paint my nails firehouse red or classy purple.
I expect to do not-so-well on this test, considering most of the questions consist of them giving you three lines from a poem and asking who wrote it, or giving you a line of Old English and asking you to translate it and identify the past participle. But it’s now or never because these scores last for five years and by next November I’ll only be speaking Kyrgyz. So I need to buckle in, take the goddamn train to Leeds this Friday, and pretend I’m having fun. Which I am. With everything written after 1900. But as far as the old shit goes, these are my essential takeaways:
Greek mythology: loves it. To have gods and goddesses who acted not like Blue-Eyed Misogynist Jesus but like Genghis Khan, Clinton and Angelina Jolie–no wonder the Greeks had it together. Seriously, I could read this stuff for ages. Fire, murder, chariots, babies coming out of heads. Amazing. Danae!
Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley: KILL ME. If you’re not in some sort of emo trance, it is honestly very difficult to read this stuff in 2009 and not glaze over. It’s “gorgeous” and “important” and I understand that British Romantic poetry really is gorgeous and important, but reading this stuff is like drinking a rotten milkshake made of velvet, peat moss, and 200-year-old roses.
Restoration comedy: William Wycherley: The Country Wife (1675). Featuring Mr. Horner, Mr. Pinchwife, Sir Jasper Fidget, Mrs. Squeamish, and Mrs. Dainty Fidget. Don’t even tell me that I need to know that. Don’t even tell me.
Pilgrim’s Progress: Most hilarious thing ever. It’s just so impossible to misinterpret. Also I’ve always wanted to write a college version of this. Instead of Christian trying to get to the Celestial City and getting bogged down in the Slough of Despond, it would be Freshman, meeting his friends Slutty and Soc Major and getting sidetracked to Fraternity Row, where he encounters a demon named DUI, gets thrown in the Drunk Tank, and is afterwards given guidance by the Dean of Students. With woodcut illustrations I think I’d really have something… something about as good as Pilgrim’s Progress.
James Joyce: I understand very little of this man’s oeuvre. Outside of Portrait of the Artist–which I think is an incredibly unteachable book for high-schoolers, largely because I don’t think a huge number of high school English teachers are willing to be up to the task of teaching this–I struggled through Dubliners, I couldn’t finish Ulysses and I couldn’t even start Finnegan’s Wake. What moments of illumination I have had with Joyce constitute the bulk of my impression of what it would be like to be an idiot savant.
In many ways I appreciate having to read all of this, but mostly I think that culture has thinned out to the point where it would be more relevant to test this, from McSweeney’s: YouTube Comment or e.e. cummings?