From film to paper | Characteristics

David Duchovny likes to tell the story on how a graduate seminar at Yale changed his life. “Oh, it’s a good story, sad, funny and absurd”, he assures the reader at the end of his latest novel, Really like lightning. He described the pivotal moment recently in an essay in the Atlantic magazine:

When I was in college, my plan was to be a critic and a professor and to use the three summer months each year to write. I sat in a seminar led by the legendary Professor Harold Bloom, staring out the window at the wintry darkness descending (before 2 p.m., it seems, just to fuck with your head) on a still gray New Haven. Bloom was asking a question I didn’t understand. No one answered until the only student in the room, a precocious and brilliant young woman, said, “It would be like a world without adjectives.”

“Exactly, my dear,” chanted Bloom, “Exactly.”

Duchovny, speaking to me on Skype from his home in Los Angeles, elaborates, “Grad seminars can be pretty quiet, because grad students are expected to know more than undergrads, so they tend not to talk. (Her second novel, Bucky Fucking Tooth, refers to “fifteen pimply graduate students from New Haven sitting at a round table. . . and wondering about permanence. “Nobody spoke, except for this wonderful student. I didn’t understand the question and I didn’t understand his answer,” Duchovny says, “and I thought: maybe I’m in the wrong place here.

So, little by little, he changed seats. “I started hanging out at drama school and did a few plays. At Yale there’s so many productions going on that there’s no body left. Pretty soon he’s going to auditions in New York, and the rest is small-screen history: after landing a few minor film and TV roles (“Tess’s Birthday Party Friend” in A hard worker; a cross-dressing DEA agent on Twin Peaks), Duchovny achieved international fame as the costar of the Fox television hit The X Files, and later as priapic novelist Hank Moody in the brilliant and raunchy Showtime series Californication.

But wait, who was the undergraduate genius who boldly ventured where pimply graduate students feared to tread? “I can’t tell you the name of the protagonist because she’s become famous,” Duchovny says.

However, in a 1998 Playboy interview, Duchovny had identified the early undergraduate as Naomi Wolf ’84, then a Rhodes Scholar and author of numerous books. In 2004, Wolf accused Bloom of “sexual encroachment”, a charge he denied.

Duchovny arrived at Yale in the fall of 1983. He had also considered applying to Berkeley, but his undergraduate mentors at Princeton, Maria DiBattista and David Bromwich ’73, ’77PhD (now Sterling Professor of English at Yale), lobbied for Yale. It was a historic time in the English department. “Paul Fry was a very popular teacher,” says Duchovny, “as well as John Hollander, Bloom, J. Hillis Miller and Geoffrey Hartman, whom we of course called Geoffrey Hartman, Geoffrey Hartman” – a nod to the 1970s show hit television Mary Hartmann, Mary Hartmann. “I had seminars with all of them.”

A Mellon scholarship paid most of his bills, and like many graduate students, he occasionally taught undergraduates. Duchovny remembers giving a course to Robert Stepto and Alan Trachtenberg, as well as a section on everyday themes. “I taught Chang-Rae Lee,” recalls Duchovny, an award-winning novelist and Stanford professor. “I cannot claim to have influenced him positively or negatively.”

“David was of course a favorite of the students,” recalled Lee ’87. “It was obvious that he was the object of many student crushes, including my girlfriend’s!” I admired him because he was quite different from the usual English graduate student – very outgoing and cool, confident and witty and candor.

Lee’s Stanford colleague and 1987 Yale classmate, English professor Denise Gigante, also remembers Duchovny as a TA. “We weren’t sitting around a table; students sat in exam chairs and David sometimes lay like Venus on the desk in front of us. He was a rising star,” she continues. “There was never any doubt that he was extremely smart, and he knew it. I thought he was arrogant, but, you know, a lot of talented people are.

After passing his oral exams and choosing a topic for his dissertation – “Magic and Technology in Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry” – Duchovny stepped away from the English curriculum to pursue his acting career. “Maybe I’m still here,” he said. “I’m not sure I ever officially resigned.”

In a sense, he came back. In 2015, Duchovny published his first novel, holy cowa short and light satire that could pass for a distant cousin of farm animal. “Writing was something I should have done a long time ago,” he says. “I felt like a beginner in some ways, but I also felt like I had saved so much in myself. I had written so much nonfiction at Princeton and Yale.

His writing improved with each book. Her second novel, Bucky Fucking Tooth, reads like a classic first novel, full of energy and deep (albeit gross) themes: in this case, a dying father-son reunion, told against the backdrop of the legendary ending of the 1978 American Season league baseball, Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees. A season saved or ruined, depending on who you support, by a Bucky F*cking Dent.

The graduate student returned in full bloom in Duchovny’s third novel, Miss Metrosinspired by a Yale undergraduate production of Yeats’ play Emer’s only jealousy. “A friend invited me to see it, and obviously it stuck with me forever,” he says. Miss Metros is perhaps the most deviously titled novel in recent history (“a sultry, surreal dark comedy,” according to USA today); it has very little to do with the Metropolitan Transit Authority and a lot to do with magical realism and Irish mythology.

Subways has a cargo of clever writing, often inflected by over two years of English seminars. Example: Emer, a teacher, ruminating on Storm“Oh, that Billy Shakespeare, he got everywhere first, didn’t he? He took the virginity of the tongue itself, after Chaucer offered him a few drinks. Or: “As John Milton said centuries ago in Areopagitic . . .”

Duchovny is a man who didn’t sleep during those “always gray” seminars in New Haven. In the Netflix series The chairSandra Oh, who plays a beleaguered English department chair, hears Duchovny play the song “Mind of Winter,” from her actual album gandstureland. “It’s the only rock song I’ve heard that references Wallace Stevens,” she notes. (Stevens’ poem “The Snow Man” begins: “You must have a winter spirit.”) A Turn the magazine’s author praised Country of gesturesDuchovny’s third album, calling him a “Renaissance man”.

“I’ve been called the worst,” Duchovny replied. “I love the Renaissance as much as anyone else.”

In The chair, a comedy set in the fictional University of Pembroke, Duchovny is being considered for a nomination for a distinguished lecturer position. In promoting Duchovny to chairman of the skeptical Oh Department, one of his supporters claims, “He was Harold Bloom’s adviser.”

“No, I never was,” Duchovny says. “It was right [Chair cocreator] Amanda Peet being funny. But he was enrolled in the moving seminar on romantic poetry with Bloom, who would tell the Hartford Current“I remember him as a pleasant young man.”

Duchovny rarely misses an opportunity to praise Bloom, whom he described as “the epitome of literary consciousness” to Public Radio’s host Michael Silverblatt. Bookworm To display. “His mind was like a flashlight, pointing in certain directions. You would go where that ray would take you, and you would find nourishment in those places, intellectual and spiritual nourishment.

Bloom’s metaphorical flashlight pointed Duchovny to his latest and greatest novel, Really like lightning, which could be loosely described as a Latter-day Mormon epic. “I came across Bloom’s work from 1992, The american religionin which he professes something more than mere admiration for [Mormon prophet] Joseph Smith,” writes Duchovny in Acknowledgments to Lightning. “He saw genius in him.”

“It’s like when a critic flexes his muscles to the limit and goes after a lesser artist, and digs up the gold he never spun,” m said Duchovny. “I took this idea of ​​genius, American genius, Emersonian, and then the deviation – word Bloom – into religion, into a unifying principle of life.”

Write in the Washington Postcritic Mark Athitakis called Lightning “the best of the lot, and constitutes a solid argument for [Duchovny] like a true novelist. Duchovny’s editor, Jonathan Galassi, president of the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux, notes that unlike Duchovny’s previous three novels, Lightning is not primarily a screenplay. “It was conceived as a fiction in itself, and that’s why it appeals to a different imagination. It was a much more ambitious and original book,” says Galassi. “I think he’s getting better and better as a writer.”

And after? It is about making a Really like lightning mini-series, and Duchovny plans to release a short story, The reservoir, in June of this year. “It’s almost like I need to cleanse the palate,” he says. At 61, Duchovny has acquired a desirable and menacing status in American literature: a writer of great promise. “Lightning was my epic,” he says. “I don’t know if I have another epic in me. I didn’t know I had a story like that in me, and now that I did, I want to try to do it again.

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