The fibers and sinews of my brain are as limp and lifeless as soggy spaghetti. (And you can tell it's true because I just wrote that sentence.) For the past two days, I've closely read something like 10 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's shorter stories and essays, written a position paper and compiled some criticism for a graduate student-lead class that's going to take place on Wednesday. I'm loving being back in the classroom. It's been so long since I've had a conversation about literary criticism that I'd almost forgotten how useless it is, and how I love to discuss it. My mind is being scratched in places I didn't know it was itching.
I'm particularly loving Hawthorne. I don't think I've ever studied his work completely enough to realize how relevant it is to modern (neopuritanical) American culture. Here's an example. And here is an excerpt of my paper:
Here Hawthorne employs the curious appearance of a veiled Pastor Hooper not only as a metaphor for secret sin, but as a criticism of a pervasive Puritan culture that by a near monomaniacal quest for perceived piety would prevent Hooper from “showing his inmost heart” to his congregation, his “best-beloved,” or even to his God. It is the act of hiding sin, rather than the occasion of sin itself, Hawthorne implies, that forces such isolation upon the individual. By carrying these effects of latent sin in the form of a black veil, Hooper exemplifies to his nonplussed congregation the lonely consequence of proudly and intentionally obscuring personal shortcoming.
I'm not a theorist, but I love what Hawthorne is getting at here. When we hide our sin, we isolate ourselves. It's a theme I see over and over again in the work of the 19th Century masters, and it's something I'd love to think about more. There's something cleverly profound in Hawthorne's work that makes me think I've found a new favorite.