Saturday, November 06, 2004

Ondaatje and Gilgamesh

So I'm doing my paper on themes of Gilgamesh that are also covered in In the Skin of a Lion.

There's a lot. It's kind of fun, but I don't think I'm in any danger of becoming a brilliant literary critic. I feel very out of my element. I'm not sure I've even read any literary criticism up to this point.

I went out and got some Susan Sontag essays so I'd have some idea of non-boring critical stuff. That was a good idea. It was also a good idea to pick an author I'm rather attached to. Even if this is not my favorite book. I still have a lot to work with.

And I think maybe if it were a favorite book I'd just get lost in the adoration and write a stupid, trite and worshipful paper that would inspire my professor to write a smiley-face on it and add "cute," in emerald green ink.

If I had to pick four words to describe my writing, cute would not be one of them.

The cute thing actually happened when I wrote a paper as an undergrad for an East Asian Studies class. I hadn't written an essay since high school, which by this time was four years away. My teacher was married to my advisor and even though I was really interested in his class, it was right after lunch and we had class in a warm dark room and he had a voice like Garrison Keillor.

So I fell asleep every day.

I tried everything I could to stay awake. I had cafeine. I chewed on carrot sticks and ice cubes. I took a nap in the morning. I went for a walk right before class. I sat in the very front row, thinking I would be too embarassed to fall alseep right in front of everyone. No such luck. Every day I woke up half-way through class. With drool on my desk.

I wanted the paper to make up for my considerable shortcomings in classroom participation. I wanted to be brilliant and inciteful. I wanted him to say I had touched on points that he hadn't considered before. I wanted him to tell his wife that I was a gifted student. Instead I wrote a mediocre paper that earned me a "cute" out of ten.

Maybe that's why I don' t like the essay form and I feel like a fraud when I try to approach anything critically.

I don't exactly have the attitude of my friend who thought, "I'm just a graduate student... what right do I have to say these things?" I think instead, "Why would I want to bother with this? Someone else has probably already done it better and besides I think I have to wash my hair or do the dishes or perhaps go get my teeth cleaned instead.