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Archive for May 10th, 2011

the tapeworm

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One of a series of stories that (if I follow) Lydia Davis wrote using language borrowed from Flaubert’s letters to his lover Louise Colet:

The Coachman and the Worm

A former servant of ours, a pathetic fellow, is now the driver of a hackney cab—you’ll probably remember how he married the daughter of that porter who was awarded a prestigious prize at the same time that his wife was being sentenced to penal servitude for theft, whereas he, the porter, was actually the thief. In any case, this unfortunate man Tolet, our former servant, has, or thinks he has, a tapeworm inside him. He talks about it as though it were a living person who communicates with him and tells him what it wants, and when Tolet is talking to you, the word he always refers to this creature inside him. Sometimes Tolet has a sudden urge and attributes it to the tapeworm: “He wants it,” he says—and right away Tolet obeys. Lately he wanted to eat some fresh white rolls; another time he had to have some white wine, but the next day he was outraged because he wasn’t given red.

The poor man has by now lowered himself, in his own eyes, to the same level as the tapeworm; they are equals waging a fierce battle for dominance. He said to my sister-in-law lately, “That creature has it in for me; it’s a battle of wills, you see; he’s forcing me to do what he likes. But I’ll have my revenge. Only one of us will be left alive.” Well, the man is the one who will be left alive, or, rather, not for long, because, in order to kill the worm and be rid of it, he recently swallowed a bottle of vitriol and is at this very moment dying. I wonder if you can see the true depths of this story.

What a strange thing it is—the human brain!

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Posted in flaubert

houellebecq on coetzee

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From a recent Paris Review interview:

INTERVIEWER

And what do you think of this Anglo-Saxon world?

HOUELLEBECQ

You can tell that this is the world that invented capitalism. There are private companies competing to deliver the mail, to collect the garbage. The financial section of the newspaper is much thicker than it is in French papers.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that men and women are more separate. When you go into a restaurant, for example, you often see women eating out together. The French from that point of view are very Latin. A single-sex dinner would be considered boring. In a hotel in Ireland, I saw a group of men talking golf at the breakfast table. They left and were replaced by a group of women who were discussing something else. It’s as if they’re separate species who meet occasionally for reproduction. There was a line I really liked in a novel by Coetzee. One of the characters suspects that the only thing that really interests his lesbian daughter in life is prickly-pear jam. Lesbianism is a pretext. She and her partner don’t have sex anymore, they dedicate themselves to decoration and cooking.

Maybe there’s some potential truth there about women who, in the end, have always been more interested in jam and curtains.

INTERVIEWER

And men? What do you think interests them?

HOUELLEBECQ

Little asses. I like Coetzee. He says things brutally, too.

I’ve searched Disgrace on Amazon and can’t find the reference to jam as a marker of lesbian sexlessness in question. Prickly-pear jam comes up, but not that way… Anyway, there’s MH for you… And it all leads me to thoughts about the forms and intensity of what we might call willful stupidity that certain novelists indulge in, perhaps have to indulge in.

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

Posted in coetzee, houellebecq

pay as you go

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Things just keep getting better and better in the UK Higher Ed sector.

Universities could be allowed to recruit unlimited numbers of UK undergraduates who are able pay their tuition fees upfront under plans being considered by the coalition government.

The idea, which Times Higher Education understands is likely to be explored in the upcoming White Paper on higher education reforms, would remove students who do not take out state-funded loans from an institution’s cap on numbers.

Currently, about 14 per cent of home students do not take out a fee loan. But if they are undergraduates taking a first degree, they still count towards the limit on numbers for universities, which is imposed to ensure that public spending is controlled.

However, with ministers keen for ways to allow universities to expand without additional costs to the Treasury, it is understood that the White Paper may be used to float the idea of removing self-funding students from the cap.

This at least puts to final rest any sense that the “reforms” currently happening here are part of a process of “Americanizing” British universities. Whatever the other problems with them, all but a tiny handful of US universities run “need blind” admissions systems. The UK seems to be heading toward a very much “need wealth aware” system. And just in case you might be thinking that this will be a minor, top-up sort of change: my university, a very very good one, is currently doing everything it can to increase overseas enrollment, often at the expense of home students even when they will be paying the new £9000 fee.

And to think that when I decided to take a job here I was proud to be joining a more egalitarian system than the one that I’d come from…. Here’s more:

The “off-quota” proposal was raised by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, in a speech to Universities UK’s spring conference earlier this year.

He asked how it could be achieved in a “needs-blind” and “socially progressive” way, although the precise detail of what he was referring to was not mentioned.

Well, the precise detail wasn’t mentioned because it’s actually in fact absolutely impossible. Nonetheless, the BBC this morning (reading apparently from some spin-doctored lie-sheet government press release) headlined the news as a progressive move, designed somehow to “free up publicly subsidised university places for poorer students.” Jesus….

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 10, 2011 at 10:21 am

Posted in academia