this week in books: histoire du Sénégal

This week was largely devoted to brushing up on my Senegalese history. I’m revising an article – crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s (as well as changing most of my which’s to that’s…good lord did I not go to middle school?) and I realized that while the literary premises were sound, the paper was really lacking context. (And by “I realized” I mean “my adviser – the fiercest editor I’ve ever met – suggested that I needed to put all the literary pish-posh into some kind of cohesive historical framework”…) So I went about kicking myself for the thousandth time since I began working on my ‘dissertation project’ proper for having wasted my intellectual youth coming up with clever ideas instead of cracking open a dang history book, and then I hit the library.

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because it was there…

Hi, how are you today? I’m fine, you know, surviving the sudden blizzard, rocking some Boubacar Traoré, and…oh yeah…wait…not fine at all – eating puréed lentils!!!

Why, you ask?

Gentle reader, (is that phrase trademarked? can I use that?) because I lost my mind for about five minutes and decided that lentil soup was fine, but puréed lentil soup would be better. That it would be creamy and soupy and wintery and delightful.

It is freaking baby food, gentle reader. Baby food.

And if you’re into that kind of thing, I have the recipe for you! But the rest of us will be over here, eating a hot, steaming plate of ANYTHING BUT THAT.

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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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tragically missed pun of the day…

Roger Célestin’s book From Cannibals to Radicals (University of Minnesota, 1996) focuses on the structure of exoticism as a trajectory from Home to Periphery (and back) as negotiated by the traveler/writer/philosopher. Rather than sticking to nineteenth century French texts (from which the term issues) he goes as far back in time as Montaigne and all the way up to V.S. Naipaul.

(Wait – can Naipaul be an exoticist? He’s not European. I haven’t gotten to that chapter yet but I believe it has something to do with reverse exoticism of a sort. Pines for palms, skyscrapers for huts, something like this…)


Though I found the introduction a little rocky for several reasons (not least of which Célestin’s tendency to play fast and loose with geometrical shapes – look, is it a triangular journey or is it circular? even if both entail coming back to the point of departure, these are different things, sir!) the chapter on Montaigne is quite enjoyable.

I find most commentary on Montaigne enjoyable. First of all, because the Essays are endlessly rich, and secondly because it is impossible to write about Montaigne without a certain amount of love and affection. You can’t do it. Montaigne is the most lovable. He is like everyone’s grandfather. Or like everyone’s kind of weird uncle who mostly keeps to himself (up in the attic where he has scrawled quotes of Seneca all over the walls) but comes around with lots of presents and funny stories at Christmas. He complains about his bowels, sure, but that’s okay because he also knows that “kings and philosophers shit; so do ladies.”

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