Sunday, June 13, 2010

Laura Penny

Laura Penny has taught literature, philosophy, and critical theory at Mount Saint Vincent University, the University of King's College, and Saint Mary's University. She completed her Ph.D in Comparative Literature in 2006. Her dissertation research focused on the relation between the ethical and the aesthetic in the work of Kant, Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Deleuze.

Her book Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit, was published in 2005.

Penny's new book, More Money Than Brains: Why Schools Suck, College is Crap, and Idiots Think They're Right, deals with ignorance, idiocy, and anti-intellectualism.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I always have a couple of heaps on the go, since both my jobs, teaching and writing, involve grossbuckets of reading and rereading. Here be my heaps, the recently completed and eagerly anticipated, the work-related and leisurely.

Freshly finished work-related stack:

I am fortunate to be part of a terrific program called Halifax Humanities 101, a Clemente great books course. The Clemente program provides a classic, old-school liberal arts curriculum for people who are not usually able to enjoy that sort of thing. The students are unilaterally great. We just finished class, and we like to end up in Canada, so we read some stories by one of my favourites, the amazing Alice Munro. This was also a good excuse to reread the super issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review devoted to her, and to flip through my dogeared copy of Lives of Girls and Women.

This spring I taught a really fun seminar on Walter Benjamin and mass culture, so I've been rereading him a lot lo these past few months. My whip-smart students got me thinking about what he has to say about the media and boredom. Harvard has been translating a ton of Benjamin since the 90s, and they've recently released a handy volume of some of his work on film, radio, the press and so forth called The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility and other Writings on Media. I will be revisiting it frequently as I try to secrete an academic paper about him.

Freshly finished fun-time stack:

I have been on a big David Foster Wallace kick. I just finished Infinite Jest. I realize this declaration is over a decade late, but that book is really something! It actually made me quite sad, and meta-sad that he is gone, since he was such an incredible virtuoso and emphatically decent guy. Moreover, phenomena like the Great Concavity/Convexity do not seem implausible, what with BP barfing crude into the Gulf for the indefinite future.

I also read that David Lipsky transcript, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which documents a couple of days in the life of DFW circa the hype-tacular release of Infinite Jest. One of the weird things about being a writer now is that it requires one to go from zero to one hundred miles per hour, socially. I mean, a person spends years all by their lonesome in their slob-wear, speaking to an empty screen, and then, if they're lucky, they have to talk to any and everybody that will have them. I find TV stuff and interviews totally anxiety-making, and I am a way way less sensitive and perceptive creature than DFW was.

Impending work-type stack:

I've decided my next book is going to be about sex ed. There have been some interesting controversies about it lately, and it's a subject dear to my heart, since my mother, who is a godamn saint, teaches sex ed. I will be spending much of the summer in the health sciences and education sections of the university libraries that adorn my fair city. I'm pretty psyched about some of their old microfiches, like a text by abolitionist Julia Ward Howe and a guide for young men by a dude with a delightful aptronym for a defender of purity: Sylvanus Stall.

Impending fun-time stack:

I loved Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin, so I got her newish one, So Much For That. I also have a stash of books by famous persons I like such as comedians (David Cross's I Drink for a Reason) and musicians (Dean Wareham's Black Postcards and Mark Oliver Everett's Things the Grandchildren Should Know) I'm pretty torn about celebrity books. On the one hand, to quote South Park, “thhurr takin' urr jerrbs!” On the other, I almost always enjoy them or enjoy hating them. The most excruciatingly awful and purely pleasurable books I have read in the last six or so months were both by stars, from very different American constellations: Sarah Palin's Going Rogue and Patti Smith's Just Kids.
Read more about Your Call is Important to Us and More Money Than Brains.

--Marshal Zeringue