The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Phenomenolgist Did It (in the library, with a bound edition of the complete Goethe in the original German)

By Andrew Tibbetts

Just because you can appreciate a Tunisian spin on Chicken Veronique doesn’t mean you can’t curl up on the couch with a pot full of Kraft dinner on your chest to watch Canada’s Next Top Model. Didn’t your mother always say that? Mine did. On her way from the ballet to the roller derby. I like mysteries.

I’m smart. For example, my borrowed copy of The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction, Volume Two by Herbert Spiegelberg is overdue at the library, and not because I’ve lost it in the dust farm under the bed. Yes, I’m reading it! I’m loving it! I try to read it in public so I can be seen reading it. Sometimes I shake my head, smile and mutter, “Oh, Merleau-Ponty, Merleau-Ponty, Merleau-Ponty. You devil!” At home, I read mysteries.

I’ve almost read Ulysses. Ditto: War and Peace and Swan’s Way. I have some really long poems memorized, hard ones by Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot. I read William Gass for fun. Seriously. But at the end of the day, before I drop off, I crack open my crime novel.

Mysteries are my comfort read. It’s calming to be among the poisonings, stabbings, shootings, and blow-torchings. No matter how awful the crime, the detective will wrap things up. The appeal of the novels is their sameness. Consumption, as Anne Carson points out by quoting somebody French, is hunger not for the specifics but for the code. That’s true of mysteries. Each corpse is unique in ways that really don’t matter. Each detective has his or her quirks that delightfully frou-frou up the essentials to absolutely no real effect. Each murderer is revealed as a specific, and hopefully surprising, individual and-- honestly-- it doesn’t matter if it was the butler or why he did it. It’s the pattern that we want. The ur-narrative. Justice prevailing. Wrongs being righted. Truth shining its ennobling beacon on us all. Good night. Off to bed.

Tomorrow, I will toil with the Harold Brodkey novel I’m reading. Bad things happen and nobody will deal with them appropriately. Good deeds will have inappropriate consequences. Secrets will be kept. The person whose fault it all is will never be revealed. If there’s a dead body, it will smell. Truth will attempt to shine its beacon but nobody will be ennobled. Sorry. No code. Just specifics.

As my mother liked to say, when she’d pop home between her two jobs -- playing the oboe d’amore in an early music ensemble and crack-whoring -- “Sometimes you take the high road; sometimes you take the low road; sometimes you lie down in the middle of the road and scream, Oh, Merleau-Ponty, what I want to know is: who is it that walks beside me, always beside me, in the shadows? And are they packing heat?” How true, eh? If I had a nickel for every time!

Andrew Tibbetts is currently reading The Runaway Soul by Harold Brodkey and Pretty Boy Dead by Joseph Hanson. He is not really reading The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction, Volume Two by Herbert Spiegelberg, but he is skimming it and it is overdue.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wed Jun 06, 12:16:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

My original comment got screwed up. What I think I said was" You're too funny and too true. We like to be seen reading stuffy stuff but we really enjoy the predictable morality of Miss Marple and Morse."

Let's see if this post shows up okay.

Wed Jun 06, 12:20:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...


Wed Jun 06, 08:07:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

you're amazing Andrew, so real in a place that often isn't, thanks as always for the smiles..xoxo

Wed Jun 06, 01:53:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

You crack me up. Really.

Wed Jun 06, 09:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Very droll, Mr. Tibbetts.
And now I have an urge to eat a pot of KD off my chest.

Thu Jun 07, 10:43:00 am GMT-4  

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