Posts Tagged ‘goethe’

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the Modern Memoir

“Everything that happens to us leaves traces, everything contributes imperceptibly to our development.”

—Goethe

There’s a hardcover edition of Dave Eggers’ first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, in which the text of the story actually starts on the book’s cover. There is no title page or copyright or About the Author; the story comprises the entire book, literally cover to cover.

I point this out because A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius does the same thing, albeit less obviously. Eggers’ memoir also starts on the front cover, what with its over-the-top title and  overtly pretentious cover art (by Komar and Melamid). In other words, if I’m judging this book by its cover, I’m guessing it’s written by Eckhart Tolle.

Once inside, the book includes a page that simply says “This was uncalled for” before a copyright page that includes a “sexual orientation scale,”* a “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoying this Book,” a preface, and an acknowledgements section that runs 25 pages, outlines his main themes, and concludes with a drawing of a stapler.

*With one being perfectly straight and 10 perfectly gay, Eggers gives himself a three.

One of those Eggers-elucidated main themes is “The Painfully, Endlessly Self-Conscious Book Aspect” which he immediately concedes is “probably obvious enough already.” This theme itself is broken into a second part: “The Knowingness about the Book’s Self-Conscious Aspect.”

Now, when you’re reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and you get to this part, where you haven’t even started the “text” yet, you have an important decision to make. If you scoff and find Eggers’ theatricality a bit smarmy and think “Enough already” or “Get on with it,” then you should probably stop there. He has alienated you, and you will not like him. But if, like me, this is essentially what you yourself would like to write one day (although now noting that your acknowledgements page will have to pay debt to Eggers’, adding another layer of self-consciousness), A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius might just live up to its title. Continue reading