November 15, 2016

Eliot Weinberger meets his nemesis

In 1989, two years after the US publication of Nineteen Ways by a small literary publisher, I received a book from Mexico: Para leer Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei [How to Read Nineteen Ways . . .], written by none other than the Furious Professor, and privately published at his own expense. The Professor’s book, much longer than my own, is almost a line-by-line analysis of my text, filled with violent denunciations and character assassinations. Its most entertaining moment occurs when he must concede that he actually agrees with me on some small point: “Almost nobody is perpetually totally mistaken, and here, at last, Mr. Weinberger hits the nail on the head”...

Some years later, after a reading I gave in Mexico City, a small middle-aged man with the expression of a mouse in a barn fire came scurrying over to me. “Hello, I’m the Furious Professor,” he said, referring to himself by my epithet rather than his own name, “and I wanted to give you this.” He handed me a manilla envelope. “What’s this? Another attack on me?” “What else? . . . But I wanted to thank you. I was asked to deliver this paper at a conference in Hawaii. I had a wonderful time, and all thanks to you!” Before I could reply, he had disappeared into the crowd. 

Naturally I couldn’t wait to read his latest. It turned out to be a critical study, written in English, of some modern Chinese translations of a classical Chinese poem. Although this is a subject I have never written about — in fact, know nothing about — the Professor periodically interrupted his discussion for my supposed response: “This incorporates a number of features dear to Weinberger’s heart” or “It is not difficult to imagine the scandalized cries of alarm on the part of Weinberger and his colleagues.” (An enemy force, I had now become a group.)

Surely the Furious Professor is the purest form of literary critic: a man who devotes his life to demolishing the work of a writer no one else knows. Clearly he is the only reader who truly needs me. But, lounging on the beaches of Hawaii, does he ever have a moment of panic: the thought that I, in the freezing New York winter, might, just to spite him, stop typing?



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