Apr

24

LectureHop: Literature, Terror, and Baseball

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Bwog’s Associate Literati Expert David Berke spent some time in the Kraft center with writer Paul Auster. He brings us this report.

Paul Auster, acclaimed novelist and former Columbia undergrad, dropped by the Kraft Center for the final installment in the Literature and Terror lecture series. Because fiction and fright are like academic peanut butter and jelly, apparently.

The conversation, moderated and often dominated by religion department chair Mark Taylor, started where all discussion of terror logically begins: baseball. Taylor, reminiscing about his own sports-obsessed youth (see ‘often dominated’), displayed some old baseball photos he had taken as a child. He then asked Auster to read from a nonfiction essay he had written about the origins of his writing career. Obliging, Auster recounted his visit to a baseball game after which his eight year-old self ran into Willie Mays, but, for lack of a pen, failed to obtain the mythic star’s autograph, motivating him to always carry around a writing utensil. According to the essay, it was a small jump from carrying the pen to putting it to paper.

This pattern–Taylor framing a question with an outside source and Auster, in spite of the tenuousness of the query, giving a compelling answer–repeated itself for the rest of the evening. Taylor read excerpts from intellectuals like Roland Barthes and occasionally assigned sections of Auster’s works for Auster to read, which was bizarre. All in all, though this style was a little pedantic, usurping time that could have been spent listening to Auster, the lecture was still compelling.

The best points were when Auster veered from the script Taylor had set. After reading the Mays story, which Taylor wanted to take in a particular diction, Auster added a postscript. Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, read Auster’s essay and managed to have it read to Willie Mays who, awestruck at the tale, autographed a baseball for Auster.

The other problem with the evening was that the conversation had little to do with terror. Taylor and Auster discussed absence, loneliness, sports, translation, tightrope walking, typewriters and mortality, only sometimes touching on terror, which itself was never really defined. It seemed like excising ‘and Terror’ would not have been such a bad idea. Given the second half of the Willie Mays story, perhaps Literature and Warm Fuzziness would have been just as fitting.

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