i forgot to tell you about the only winter course that matters, stanford's english 239:
In this course, we will read the three culminating novels of Henry James's 'major phase': The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. These are among the greatest and most profound novels in English. Many people also find them boring or unreadable. Unquestionably, their prose is difficult, with sentences so complex, wandering, and ambiguous, that the sense may be hard to construe. While very little action occurs, topics illuminated include love, money, sex-gender-sexuality, and evil. These three novels, taken seriously, have unusual powers to illuminate your future life, but also perhaps to mislead or ruin it. All are microscopic studies of social interaction, psychology, and selves. Recommended for very advanced and searching students and readers. Please enroll only if you find difficult prose manageable and rewarding, and you anticipate that these particular novels may speak to you at this stage of your life.
two of my dearest friends and i took a...memorable henry james class at stanford. one of us might have been a teen polymath who composed music while taking breezy notes; another might have celebrated the end of the term by writing a mass email about their and henry james's long-awaited breakup. i think we all still refer to the grad student who'd switch languages in the middle of statement-questions as the white worm. all course descriptions should roll like this.

the only interview that matters, in turn, is the hollywood reporter's harrison ford cover story. it unfolds as TED talks would if i had my way, and on a day that has otherwise been overwhelmingly fucking awful it has brought me peace.
When asked what he’d want written on his tombstone, Ford replies: “I wouldn’t want it to be  ‘Harrison Ford, blah-blah-blah, actor.’ I’d settle for ‘Was Useful.’ ” I point out that’s a particularly reductive way to sum up a life, and Ford shoots back: “Well, there’s not a lot of space on a tombstone.”


You’ve also rescued several people with your helicopter. How do stranded hikers react when they’re rescued by Harrison Ford?

Well, one time we picked up this woman who was hypothermic on the mountain. She barfed in my cowboy hat but didn’t know who I was until the next day. I stopped doing it because we would be lucky enough to find somebody and then they’d be on Good Morning America talking about “a hero pilot.” It’s nothing fucking like that. It’s a team effort. It’s lame to think about it that way.


[Shrinking co-creator Bill] Lawrence made it sound like you have a boyish and youthful side that’s very different, and suggested it’s more the real you than what people tend to see.

Do you fish?

No. I mean, not since I was a kid.

There’s this thing called “match the hatch.” It’s when there’s a natural bug in the air the fish are eating and you use an artificial fly that’s the same color. I have a protective coloration. I try to blend in. That’s what I do. When I’m getting dressed, if people are going to be wearing a suit, I wear a suit. If people are wearing blue jeans, I’m wearing blue jeans. I’m comfortable in all kinds of company. If they’re serious, I’m serious. They’re not serious, I’m not serious. And if they’re too fucking serious, I’m not serious. (Laughs.) I don’t know why people have an expectation of me. I come in all colors. I don’t know who’s going to show up. But it’s usually me and it looks familiar.

One of your majors in college was philosophy. Has any of that stayed with you?

Yeah. There’s a Protestant theologian named Paul Tillich who wrote that if you have trouble with the word “God,” take whatever is central and most meaningful to your life and call that God. My mother was Jewish, my father was Catholic, and I was raised Democrat — my moral purpose was being a Democrat with the big D. But it didn’t apply to a political point of view so much as it applied to nature. I didn’t have any religious construct, but I think nature and God are the same thing. The mysterious origin of life — science tells us how it happened, prophecy tells us another story. I found that everything in nature — the complexity, the biodiversity, the symbiotic relationships — is the same thing other people attribute to God. … Now aren’t you glad you asked that question? You want to get back to the funny shit?

I am glad I asked. I haven’t heard you say that before.

I’ve been saving it just for you, man.


Anonymous said...

_M_D_F_ said...

Soon after reading your post, I stumbled across Clive James:

"And those themes are only the beginning of what is in Nostromo, which I can now see as one of the greatest books I have ever read. But I thought the same when I had read almost no serious books at all. Somewhere in that paradox lies the secret of a magic novel, and the secret of why the later novels of Henry James have never held me in a spell: in the opening chapters, their subtleties of style catch the attention of the experienced reader in me, but the inexperienced reader in me finds too little to draw him forward. If only Henry James had been to sea. But Edith Wharton’s account of how he rambled on incomprehensibly when he got out of the car to ask directions tells us that any order he delivered on the bridge would have been so elaborately expressed that the ship would have hit something on the first day of the voyage."

Was James's triplet taken seriously? Was future life illuminated? Was there misleading and ruination? You never said! :)

lauren said...

in fairness, i'm pretty sure our class read PORTRAIT and maaaaaaybe BOWL but definitely not THE AMBASSADORS, so i never ate the whole sandwich. PORTRAIT (not WHAT MAISIE KNEW) illuminated my parents' divorce a few years later, and james himself was a foil for the way i moved through the world - i have been to sea, on several occasions - but MDF, the jury is still out.

aside: we had tickets for samuel d. hunter's new play for tonight and i had to give them up for a prior commitment! we're getting there at some point in the run, though.

Anonymous said...

Jacob: as the third musketeer in this class, here’s what I remember of the reading list: TURN OF THE SCREW, PORTRAIT OF A LADY, WASHINGTON SQUARE (aka WASHINGTON PARK), WHAT MAISIE KNEW, WINGS OF THE DOVE, and a bunch of his short stories. I still have WINGS OF THE DOVE, still unread.