It might have taken me a while, but after a couple days, I figured out why Leaving the Atocha Station got on my last nerve. I hate that book because it is exactly the kind of book that would make fun of me for hating it. If I hear what’s-his-face, Adam, say/write the words “genuine experience of art” in his stupid, smug, Ivy-league narrative voice again, I will punch him in his entirely fictional teeth. (How’s THAT for a genuine experience of art, buddy?) Stop dissing the people at the poetry reading because they look like they’re enjoying poetry that you consider bad! Who cares? Let them like it! Also, stop manipulating Isabelle. I don’t blame her for dumping your sorry asterisk. I was actually going to write about something that’s not a diatribe against a fictional character. Where was I? Oh, yes.
Leaving the Atocha Station, or at least the character of Adam in that book, is a really good example of this weird cultural thing we have where having an emotional reaction to something is seen as uncool, or inferior, or distasteful. Yes, this is a hipster thing (insert pizza joke here), but I can see threads of it going all the way back to the Victorian dandies and their cultivated air of world-weariness. See also: any news magazine story about “fangirls.” Somehow, it was deemed that passionate engagement with something is, somehow, the wrong way to engage.
Of course, the academy is part of the culture too. At least in my experience, it’s unusual to be genuinely enthusiastic about your object of study. I study Shakespeare in large part because I love Shakespeare, in the least eloquent and dorkiest way possible. You could easily call me a Shakespeare fangirl. I got chills down my back when I read the Ghost’s speech for the first time; I go all swoony whenever a production of Henry V (any Henry V; yes, I know it’s weird) gets to that final scene with him and Katherine and it’s all just too adorable to endure; I have been known to sniffle a little bit during the last scene of Twelfth Night. I have never gotten the feeling that this kind of wholehearted engagement with one’s object is something to be acknowledged in an academic context. The proper scholar always remains detached, somehow; it’s bad form to acknowledge that you cannot stand All’s Well that Ends Well not because of some meterical or narrative flaw, but because Bertram is such a dick.* There’s obviously a place for that reserved attitude, but I’m having a hard time finding a place for the contrary. Why is it seen as immature or unprofessional to have (or acknowledge having) an emotional reaction to your scholarly object? We’re not expected to take neutral positions on questions about theory or methodology, so why should we suddenly become equivocal when it comes to our actual object? In a nutshell, I suppose what I want to know is this: where is the Shakespeare fandom? Where are the fandoms for James Joyce and baroque painting and T. S. Eliot? and Mary Shelley?* I don’t know, but I hope they’re out there somewhere.
*Obviously, since I’m talking about late sixteenth to early seventeenth-century plays, I am using this word in the contemporaneous sense of “dude.” It didn’t take on any sexual connotation until the 1800s, so clearly it is not profanity here. HA.
*I see you, Austenites, and I congratulate you on your recent run of successful movies. Particularly Austenland, because Shannon Hale is AMAZING. That phenomenon is a whole other post in itself.