Monday, February 2, 2009


I submit that there's nothing quite like coming home after an afternoon devoted to flogging your brain with a combination of Genesis, Homer, and Auerbach and discovering that, contrary to all reasonable expectations, your paper on Vanity Fair and the nineteenth-century definition of satire did not in fact write itself while you were gone.

In other news, I disagree with Stanley Fish. This probably suffices as a general rule, but to wit, today: his assessment of Big Love, a show I adore passionately but not passionately enough to pay $50 more a month to get HBO. (Cable already seems like a waste to me. Despite getting some 100 channels, I can tell you definitively and from much past experience that there's nothing on at the moment. Unfortunately, the Internet's markedly more expensive without it and that whole digital switcheroo thingy dingy renders a cable box necessary unless I want to acquire one of those special converters made for old people clinging like the shipwrecked to their rabbit ears. I imagine these boxes having a single large red button.) "Sentimentality" isn't the right word for the aesthetic effect of Big Love. The aesthetic appeal of Big Love is a very old one, and has to do with Aristotle's question of what philosophy is and does. Philosophy is supposed to help you find and lead that ever so elusive good life, and what appeals about Big Love is that the characters appear to genuinely care about that question. Granted, their moral ideas are for those of us in mainstream America something like living in a fun house that's been turned upside down and exiled to Wonderland, but still, no viewer leaves it without the sense that the crazy polygamists are trying, however imperfectly, to find and do the right thing. And it's impossible not to get sucked into this pursuit and to start asking the same questions they ask themselves about the right course of action when, say, your husband is thinking about taking a Croatian waitress as a fourth wife and your son starts dating twins. Afterwards, you ask yourself what it is about this lifestyle that's so wrong, and you have trouble coming up with answers that address themselves to principle and not the specifics of the situation you've just encountered. You've been relativized, in other words, and it's hard to smother this decided weirdness in the same blanket statements that you did before you realized that even polygamists may be in pursuit of something recognizably moral in trying circumstances (i.e. your neighbors keep sending the mainstream Mormons after you).

Now, to bed. The Victorian novel seminar is so crowded that arriving the standard Berkeley 10 late will ensure that you occupy the standing room only section.

Posted by Shannon Chamberlain @ 10:57 PM