Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane


-Book Cover

The Beav read this book in French, liked it and passed it on. It’s a story told by an old professor looking back on the relationship he had as a young man with the teacher who shaped his intellectual life. Mostly it’s a narrative of a feeling. The young student doesn’t know himself at all. He is attracted to his teacher. That is clear. But it’s not clear to what extent that attraction is sexual, friendly, intellectual, competitive or some combination of the four. What becomes clear is that his teacher is attracted to the young man in all of these ways but trying to hide it–for the student’s as well as his own sake. This story can only end badly, and by the end, the relationship is a shambles with bitter feelings–and yes, confusion–on both sides. Yet, the end leaves a clear sense of these two men creating each others’ characters through their suffer, and in this, it cuts across many of the obvious, easy categories we have for thinking about situations like this one.

A friend talked with me the other day about an article he’d read that argued that the variety of our emotions and our capacity to experience them have been slowly worn away in the past decades by publicity and commercial culture. At first glance, it looks like an easy argument. “Easy” meaning cheap. Reading Confusion, however, I struggled to parse my reactions. The subtlety of these characters’ feelings–and the importance of these subtleties–put strain on my own emotional repertoire. And energized it as well. I came away feeling stronger (not strongly….the difference defines the sense). Thinking of the article I was told about, I think its argument is in fact easy because the proof is everywhere. It’s like proving things fall down rather than up.

This book offers a counterweight for Joyce Carol Oates’s Sexy.

Posted November 6, 2011