Saturday, November 17, 2007

Based on a true story

-At a bar in the East Village last night, a man having a drink with a female companion turned to Jo and me, said he'd been listening in on our conversation, and wanted to hear more about the Belfast Declaration. It took a moment to realize this but it turned out he meant Balfour. Then he announced that Herzl was famous for having written the book, Zionism. Closer by a long shot. Also, apparently Dreyfus was known for being a Zionist. Hmm. It continued along these lines, but the high point was when he announced that he was brought up in a Zionist household. He seemed genuinely curious, but if that's the case it's odd given his background that he didn't know some of this already. Of course, this is precisely why it's good for grad students to leave the library from time to time, to keep the general public informed about such pressing matters. Or maybe it's best we stay put.

-One of the classes I'm taking this semester deals with how historians can (or, do) use novels when writing about 19th century France. The question constantly at the back of my mind is, if 19th century novels tell us something about 19th century reality, can the same be said for contemporary works? What about Philip Roth, who argues that he can write a book with a protagonist just like himself, one often named "Philip Roth," and yet no one should take the book to be in any way about Philip Roth the man? Of course that doesn't mean one couldn't use the book to understand an era without upsetting Roth. But how much of where to draw the line depends on whether an author is still living? (This is addressed in the otherwise eh Exit Ghost.) How much, for that matter, on whether the book is terribly written and obviously semi-autobiographical (think high school poetry), or whether it is brilliantly written and thus deserves to be taken seriously as literature? When can someone be dumped/shunned/fired for writing fiction?

-Quote of the weekend about the other New Yorkers that explains why NYU grad students rarely live anywhere near school: "They were willing to spend $7,000 a month, at the very most, for a two-bedroom rental in the West Village."

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