A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION

7 January 2006 at 3:33 am Leave a comment

I started reading this a couple of days ago.  Perfect for a wandering scholar:  a book about academia!  The protagonist Roland has lost out on a tenure track position to a friend from the same program he was in, and though I’m only about a 100 pages in, I have to say that I don’t miss the politics–the stupid ugly politics that comes with the territory.  But at the same time I recognize and miss that feeling of being on to something, pursuing something new and exciting.  It’s interesting how we scholars (as depicted in Roland) can become lost in the lives of others.  I’ve had that experience recently while doing research on my family’s genealogy–trying to imagine what my grandfather did while working the mines in Butte, Montana, what he thought, where he went, how he lived. 

This reminded me of one of my performance-oriented conference presentations that I did as a graduate student.  It was a paper on Spenser titled “The Narrator in Spenser’s PROSOPOPOIA, OR MOTHER HUBBERDS TALE” which I delivered at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Atlanta way back in October 1992.  I photocopied a portrait of Spenser and created a kind of Andy Warhol art-object, but then I cut out the face and put my face through it as I read the paper (with a “straight face”!).  The whole experience was kind of absurd anyway:  there were so many presentations to attend that only four people came to mine, and most of the ones I attended were minimally attended as well.  It gave me the impression that the whole process was a way of padding one’s vita.  But the notion of “prosopopoia” (or “face-making”) made me realize that this is ultimately what critics do:  they re-create the author in terms of themselves, they make a mask of the author that they themselves can wear, they become the author in this way, and live the author’s life vicariously.  A little spooky. . . I wonder if this will play out in Byatt’s POSSESSION.

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Entry filed under: academia, books.

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