Shaun believes the English novel died in 1943 with the “Establishment’s” rejection of “Finnegans Wake”. Especially Virginia Woolf; and she was dead within a year. He is 27, tells me quickly he is “precocious”: next term he starts teaching literature in England. Somewhere coastal. His PHD, just completed, is on a group of English authors from the 1960s I’ve never heard of. Experimental sorts, Shaun says.
He will republish them sooner or later: new media makes small print-runs easy today. I tell him about my pursuit of Thomas Coryat across Europe. “All been done,” he says. “Very bourgeois. What? Do you live in Hampstead as well?”
Shaun tells me to read Giorgio Agamben, an Italian intellectual, who has a line on such things. He also did a number on the American Patriot Act in a volume on Government and the Law called “States of Exception.” Not a rant, it’s mostly about the Greeks, the Senate and all that. Agamben believes that the twentieth century was about governments everywhere declaring “exceptional” circumstances to ignore their own laws. He teaches at Verona, perhaps I’ll meet him there.
“The problem with the experimental novel,” Shaun says, “is that nobody wants to read it. I like that.” His friend, a dark haired Ursula from Iceland, is “comparative literature”, finishing on James, Foster and de Maupassant, soon enough. “Bourgeois,” says Shaun, rolling a last cigarette…
At late there is a minor Paduan renaissance; perhaps fifty have made it to the central square. A biker or two turns up. But the noise is still like a BBC Radio play: a pre-recorded mumble of commentators. The occasional dog-walker passes by with thunder-frightened Spaniel in tow. Tomorrow is Giotto, God & Richard Dawkins and I was hoping to be thinking of more than the Death of the English novel conversation of weeks ago. But it comes back anyway. Probably something to do with reading “The God Delusion” yesterday; not much room for experimental novels in that.
You’re bourgeois, Tom Coryat: you probably knew that already. I hear from Shaun that there’s an Australian who has done a lot of good work about the colonial discourse in nineteenth century travel writing.
I’m betting it’s not in stock at the station newsstand in Padua. Hoping, to be honest.