Roaming ruminations on life and art.
WWMD? What would Montaigne do? Left to write a fresh collection of essays, he might not lead with a piece in which expectoration takes center stage: “I spit more than most people, as far as I know. In one day, I can spit as much as a liter.” A physics student who found true love on a proselytizing mission and who now teaches English at Brigham Young University, Madden (Quotidiana: Essays, 2010, etc.) measures and monitors. The penultimate piece in this collection is a long and loopy excursus on plagiarism and its practitioners and miscontents—among many other subjects, that is, for the essay is a perfect vehicle for straying from the point, and Madden often does. It is so long, one suspects, because, as the author gladly owns up, at 30,000 words it “is approximately the length of Montaigne’s longest essays.” But there’s no comparison: Montaigne strode the countryside thinking great thoughts, while Madden finds himself recalling—more than once throughout this collection—lyrics from rock songs and the high-pitched warblings of Rush vocalist Geddy Lee. No offense to Lee, but there are weightier matters in the world. On other matters musical, as with Madden’s exploration of John Lennon’s song “Jealous Guy,” one wishes for some more oomph—e.g., a more in-depth discussion of the nature of jealousy. Still, points should be given for Madden’s ability to bring Zeno into the picture, but Greil Marcus might take a sharper scalpel to the patient. There are some fine and laudable moments in the book, though, as when Madden settles into one real subject, the tempus fugit nature of our lives: “The fleeting moments that made up my life seemed to stretch before me to a point so distant it may as well have been the edge of the universe.”
Likable but overly earnest, as if convinced of its own importance.