drinking game with Balzac

Do you ever find yourself going through a text, doing the close reading and, in particular, “tracing” one element throughout, and feel like you are playing a drinking game with yourself? I’m reading La Duchesse de Langeais for the second time, having noticed that in addition to several interesting portrayals of slavery (both conceptual and actual) there is a MAJOR FOOT FETISH going on. Combined with this major foot fetish is a fascination with the head of the king and the head of the coquette. See, the head of the king falls at the feet of the proletariat, figuratively and literally. And the head of the lover is constantly lying upon the feet of the coquette.  And Balzac can’t seem to decide which he finds more enticing, the coquette’s pieds or her perfectly coiffed and toiletted tête


In the meantime, I’m sitting here typing up notes and writing things like

Madame de Langeais in the Spanish convent of the Carlélites Déchaussées [FEET!] where she plays the organ [FEET!]

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so…should prosper mérimée be considered an abolitionist writer or not?

You’ve probably read Christopher L. Miller’s The French Atlantic Triangle, yes? (No, you are NOT a francophone African/Caribbean literature scholar, you say? You stumbled onto this blog because you heard there’d be cake? There is cake too. There is definitely cake.)


The book is taking me all summer to read. But not in the bad way. In the way that it is getting my full and undivided attention while I’m reading, and I’m only giving it a few hours a week because there are more pressing books at hand. Books I can skim. Books that get about half my brain while the other half is thinking about what to do with the fresh basil and eggplant in my fridge. Books that stand untouched on my desk until I have done the laundry, cleaned the bathroom, organized my closet, found all my missing jewelry, made a pie, rearranged my pictures, and checked email eight times because I don’t want to read them but I know that I have to. (*cough* Heidegger *cough cough*…) Books that I simply have to get through so that I can read other books about them. (It’s a charmed life or something…)

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I should really consult my gastroenterologist about Flaubert…


I wish someone had told me that playing Liszt, reading poetry, indulging in melancholic loves and drinking water could give you stomach problems

Do you ever have one of those days when you’re reading, taking painfully detailed notes (because you don’t have money for books and incessantly move around and are forced to borrow everything from the library), and a character description pops up and you think, “Oh…hmm…that sounds suspiciously familiar…”…?

You’re with me so far?

Then, are you seized by terror, because it’s Flaubert, and if you are identifying (even entirely superficially) with one of his characters then something must be seriously wrong with you because this typologizing gesture, in which the very outermost characteristics are portrayed, merely points to many sordid and deeply buried constructions of the psyche which likely indicate something no more benign than total neurosis?

Yeah…that’s a normal thing…

But here’s the lesson for us all… It’s not the dairy, it’s not the gluten, it’s probably not even the high fructose corn syrup (though you should stop eating that anyway…) It’s the melancholy, the pale skin-blue eyes combination, and the fact that you look like a wood nymph straight out of a creepy scandinavian fairy tale. In short, you’re a neurotic white person who reads too much. That’s what’s wrong with your stomach.

shocking statistics of 19th century literature

I sort of already knew that incarceration was more of an industry than a public service in this country. Which means I was none too surprised to learn that, while the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, we have almost 25% of the world’s prisoners.*

Here’s a coincidence. Did you know that, while the 19th century produced only 5% of all books ever written, it claims nearly a quarter of the total number of words penned throughout the entire history of literature as we know it?

I know. Shocking. Take minute if you need to. Take a breath. Let it sink in.

The thing is, you go through life, sort of knowing that something is out of joint, but not really paying much attention. Then you get the cold, hard facts.** Numbers don’t lie.

Over 90% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, largely pertaining to drugs. This particular facet of cracking down on crime, the so-called “war on drugs” is destroying entire communities.***

Similarly, nearly 90% of the words I look up in the dictionary while reading Le Père Goriot were unjustly put there. If I find one more synonym for “variety of serving utensil” in the Larousse, I’m giving up. Honoré, dial it down a notch. I don’t care how shabby the furniture was, nor how uncomfortable the lighting. I’m also not too concerned about the state of Parisian streets in 1819.****

Look, we all want to throw blame around. Personally, I’m gonna go with self-serving political agendas, a total misunderstanding of how sustained poverty effects community building, and the serialized novel.

*Yes, NPR, my check is in the mail. Please tell Ira Glass to make me stop feeling so guilty. I’m just driving along here in the traffic, trying to get to work.

**To be clear, the drug related statistics I’m referring to are true to the best of my knowledge.

*** I was not kidding about NPR – there was a fantastic interview on Bob Edwards weekend with the maker of the film “The House I Live In,” Eugene Jarecki.

****Although, some people are, and that’s cool.