The world is text. Mallarmé and Flaubert described this possibility at the end of the nineteenth century and Derrida proclaimed it again more recently. But now we can say that the world is literature. It is turning literary through the Internet.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That still sums up the way we view culture today. We undervalue its place in the world, always elevating the importance of the economy as a factor in social change. Culture, to change the metaphor, still plays second fiddle, following the lead of the economic conductor.
Question: Where does friendship turn into a thing? Answer: On Facebook.
I don’t mean that new digital technologies convert friends into objects. This would be a simplistic reading of social media. I argue, rather, that they transform our human desire for connections into a commercial activity.
You’d think from current writing on transnationalism that our interconnected society is an exceptional time in human affairs. Reading work on globalization, by either academics or journalist, you get the impression that we are experiencing a unique phenomenon. Writers are so taken by contemporary developments that they forget to set them in a historical context.
Under the cascading sunshine in LA, amidst job interviewers in their Sunday best, the slovenly postures of their professors, and the complaints of waiters that teachers are the worst tippers, there was a sense of common purpose in the MLA: the teaching of literature and its role in our lives.
Another autumn and a whole stack of promotion and tenure files to look at. The phrase “gold standard,” attached to peer-reviewed articles, always strikes me. In the ladder of the evaluation process, the peer-reviewed article stands proudly and invincibly at the top. The more of these you have, the more unassailable your dossier.
There must be something right with a country, when your guide talks to you on your hike outside Bogota about his love for Llosa, Cortázar, Hemingway, Kazantzakis, and Tolstoy. And then at the end of the hike he asks for a list of novels and poets he should read!
Am I living in the wrong country or what?
The glaze in their eyes gives it away, the slight tightening of their lips, and the nervous breath. When colleagues learn about my new project, they begin to feel sorry for me. “Why friendship of all subjects?” It’s seems quaint to them or just light; in any case, not a legitimate object of inquiry.
You sit in your office annoyed that your students were surfing the web during your lecture. And now your friend calls while he chomps away at his chicken sandwich. Outside your window a dad nudges his son’s stroller with his belly while texting. And your daughter complains that recess has been reduced to one ten-minute period.
“Machu Picchu,” my friend said, “I hitchhiked there from California in 1971. When we made our way to the site, it was deserted so we camped the night among the ruins.” Her description is vastly different from my own experience this month when I hiked there with my two sons, a nephew and a friend.
Gregory Jusdanis teaches Modern Greek literature and culture at The Ohio State University. He is the author of The Poetics of Cavafy: Eroticism, Textuality, History (1987), Belated Modernity and Aesthetic Culture: Inventing National Literature (1991), The Necessary Nation (2001), and Fiction Agonistes: In Defense of Literature (2010), A Tremendous Thing. Friendship from the Iliad to the Internet (2014). He is currently working on a biography of C. P. Cavafy.