The ugly fact is that books are made out of other books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.
Cormac McCarthy, 1992
Last week, like a garden-variety postgrad junkie, I attended a William Faulkner masterclass at UNSW with Professor Noel Polk, who edited Faulkner's novels (1930-35) for the Library of America, and who probably has a better handle on Faulkner's manuscripts than anyone else in the field. (Received knowledge, this, but after the masterclass I don't have cause to argue it.) I followed the crowds from the 891 to the middle of the campus – modern, sporadically weeded and no less confusing than any university campus – wandered around until by some stroke of luck I found the right building, and despite feeling like I was walking into a high-school gymnasium, eventually ended up in the correct seminar room.
Once there, we heard a paper from Noel about "The Leg" and "Mistral", two minor short stories with the common thread of never quite knowing what's going on, and I left with the distinct impression that despite not having read enough Faulkner in undergrad courses to get a handle on the guy, my thesis topic means that almost anything to do with literary conversation and dialogism in the Modernist field is worth hearing. I left the burbs with the title of a book to track down, Richard Gray's A Web of Words: The Great Dialogue of Southern Literature, and a recurrence of that uneasy feeling that shoehorning both Jorges Luis Borges and Malcolm Lowry into a discussion of literature's Platonic Library may be verging on the optimistic. Tending towards pessimism in any case, T.S. Eliot's seminal "Tradition and the Individual Talent" provides a leg-up, and I'm working towards a thesis that Borges' sense of the Universal Library equates to an individual fascination and horror at the near-infinite (but decidedly finite) sources, whereas Lowry, the congenital copier with a "pelagarist pen", relies exceedingly heavily on outside sources for his own creative process. Despite our lack of time to adjust all the frame-widths for resolution-agnostic viewing, the last iteration of The Malcolm Lowry Project shows this reasonably ably, even 1994-era hypertext being a natural medium for annotation.
The synecdochic extension of undergraduate classes and, to a lesser degree, even the necessarily blinkered research for a Master's, tend to leave rather a lot of elephants in any given room, and the process of determining them Indian, African or otherwise is rather overwhelming. The spectre of Tradition, of drawing together all possible and probable sources, looms large, and even then managing to avoid (re)stating the obvious – well of course books are made out of other books – remains a concern. Lucky these things are supposed to take a few years.
The Australian Association of Literature is holding its 2010 conference on Literature and Science at UNSW in July. I've (optimistically) submitted an abstract promising to examine the guiding principles of sf hybridity in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos – framed by discussion of the triune Keats persona as mediated by an unknowable Logos – but at the very least there's a lot going on here, conference-wise. (I had a back-up abstract ready to go on Philip K. Dick's DADOES, our two cats and the production of kipple, that physical manifestation of entropy, but the less said about that, the better.)