This isn’t a compliment. There’s a tincture of the self-hating scholar in me, a result of being a reformed wannabe academic.
How this came about is a long and longer story. It gets bigger with each telling.
Of course I’d be happy to share it with you, but I’ve read Middlemarch and have ingested its lessons and know that I don’t know what I think I know, and know, too, that you don’t know what you think you know.
That is, obscurity happens at the moment when transparency is most ardently desired, and perhaps most then. Desire is tricky that way. It plays the black magician with us all.
If I were a literary scholar, I’d devote my life to Middlemarch. That’s a plain fact. It’s an absolutely stunning work, filled with so many pleasures and ideas that one could plunder its pages for years without ever exhausting its treasures.
If in good Casaubon-fashion I were to write The Key to All the Sentences of Middlemarch, I’d write probingly on the subtle shades of difference between mentorship, patronage and subordination.
I’d write about secret hidden thoughts and fugitive feelings and their role in motivation, and show how Eliot’s treatment of the unconscious is superior to Freud’s right at the spot where he think he’s strongest.
I’d write on hunger and desire, on self-deception and rationalization, and draw parallels with Schopenhauer who, like Eliot, has a fine eye for the wily ways of the will and its power to summon the intellect to justify egoism.
I’d write about transparency and obstruction pace Rousseau.
I’d write about searching for love and striving for achievement, and the difficulties and collisions that result from shifting perspectives.
But mostly I’d write about idealism, not in the Kantian transcendental sense, but in the Elitonian phantasmagorical sense, i.e., the power of images, hopes, expectations, illusions and delusions to posses our minds and lead characters in Eliot’s universe, including her insignificant readers, astray, confusing thoughts for things.
Between the subject and the world is a layer of thought and perception, feeling and imagination — and so I would write on the promise and perils of connection, society and vulnerability.
Thank god I’m not a scholar.