Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Love, Literature and Lunacy

The most recent kerfuffle over gender and authorship has taken off now that David Gilmour, a Canadian novelist who teaches at the University of Toronto, explained that he only loves the writing of "serious heterosexual guys" enough to teach it.

Oh, except for Virgina Woolf, but she's just too confusing for undergraduates.

Forget for a moment the wrong-headedness and the literary insensitivity required to love only books written by straight men and to consider them the only "serious" ones. Forget about the completely uncritical categorization of literature as "serious" or not.

It was a damned stupid thing for him to say beyond all those reasons because of the blow it dealt to those of us who believe that love is and by rights should be a criterion in studying literature. Don't get me wrong. My teaching is critically rigorous; and I don't only teach works that I love. In fact, there's one major canonical medieval Spanish work (that shall remain unidentified) that I *hate* but I teach it anyway (and do a really good job of it) because it's the professionally responsible thing to do. Maybe professional irresponsibility is a luxury that can be afforded by a single individual who is one of several covering one linguistic-literary tradition from one general time period, but I'm still not sure (to put it mildly) that it's a good idea to take advantage of it.

I'm a scholar who shamelessly loves her poets and her translators. I'm also a teacher who sometimes begins class by asking students whether they liked what they read and using that as a point of entry into a more critically informed discussion. And perhaps paradoxically, I don't love literature uncritically.  The L-word is a bad one in certain critical circles; and I fear that by conflating love with shameless bias and ignorance, Mr. Gilmour has made it a bad one in even more.

ETA, 11pm: In response to Gilmour's claims that he was quoted out of context, the full transcript of the interview has been made available online. The man who claims to love only serious literature describes Chekhov as "cool."

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