Bilingual blog offers fresh literary critique

What do Shakespeare, Gregory Samsa, Lester Bangs and the notorious Marquis de Sade have in common apart from occasionally being slightly unconventional? They might be found together in a comparative literature course catalog. However, as extensive and comprehensive as literature class can be, the limits of both the span of one semester and the resources of a single professor make it impossible to cover all authors’ works. But there is one place where the conversation could continue without limitations and boundaries: the recently-launched literary blog, Spurious Notions.

Just as the name suggests, the blog differs from a classical academic setting, accepting and encouraging contributors from all walks of life regardless of qualifications. In fact, none of the staff have advanced literary degrees to their names. The diverse group of editors consist of Aron Holewinski ’12, an English major; Sebastien Thibault, a French teaching assistant (TA) with a PhD in political science; Fran Martinez, a geopolitical analyst based in Paris, France; Nathaniel Basch-Gould ’11, an actor in New York; and Francois Michel, a French trainee librarian. At first glance, they appear to be  insouciant (silly and light-hearted) as they describe their personal habits of eating rabbit and cooking naked. Their articles, however, prove that when it comes to literature they are all avid aficionados. “Il faut revenir à notre premier amour, la littérature” (we should return to our first love, literature), Thibault said of the purpose of the blog in his characteristic poetic way. “It would be such a shame if we all had to give up our passions because it is not our profession,” he said. Let us not forget that Franz Kafka, enigmatic literary genius of the 20th century, did not abandon his writing while earning a living at the tedious Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute. For the modern day Kafka, Spurious Notions is the place to find solace. Where else would you go to express your reactions to the dazzling spontaneity of Albert Camus’ The Stranger or other works of interest?

The idea of creating a space where people could freely express both their immediate responses to literary works and lingering ruminations came into being in a comparative literature class. Holewinski, a passionate pursuer of words, got together with free-spirited Thibault and discussed literature over a lunch in Paresky. Thibault found kindred spirit in both students at the College and the acquaintances he has made in the United States and France alike. “We are all united not only by a common interest concerning literature and its inquiry, but also by a desire to encourage artists by constructing a comfortable setting for them,” he said. The blog also showcases creative works, this week featuring Thibault’s “Machine à Laver,” a poem that has him dancing to the rhythm of the foamy waves of the washing machine as to a rolling tambourine.

Already a rare gem as a bilingual English and French blog, Spurious Notions aims to function like an online magazine, publishing two articles every week with strict regularity. “Even though we want this to be a laidback and stress-free environment, we do not want there to be huge lapses in publications and disappoint potential followers,” Thibault said. The spontaneity is in the choice of subject matter and writing style but not in discipline. “Literature is not meant to be rushed, nor commercialized,” Thibault continued, which is the reason why the editors have taken on most of the workloads, polishing and publishing the articles at 2 or 3 a.m. Contrary to the common conception of blogs as lacking in structure, Spurious Notions insists on a solid work ethic and relevant, contemporary commentary.

The blog creators’ efforts have paid off immensely, not through monetary compensations but in the form of contributions and comments from all walks of life, from students of the College to theater grads from Yugoslavia. In a popular article written by another talented and fun-loving French TA Valentine Boivin, the sexually libertine Marquis de Sade is placed into the context of contemporary society where “sex is everywhere” and reinterpreted. “Man cannot be free without the liberty of sensuality and philosophy,” she wrote to cleverly point out the characteristics of modern liberation. Therefore, she questions, can Sadism be justified and be given credit? The articles raise questions that force readers to contemplate issues they would not otherwise encounter.

When mentioning transatlantic cultural exchanges, one immediately conjures up images of Parisian cafés pervaded by smoke and loud chatter, where Hemingway and the Lost Generation conversed and forged bonds with writers, poets and artists alike. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, media outlets such as Spurious Notions may just be the best way to transcend cultural barriers and construct relationships with not only past literary giants but also those who derive simple pleasure out of reading and writing.