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The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2001

    Writing Style: Allusive. Author: Elusive.

    Reading this pastiche of memoirs, I often thought of being in a maze. Not a terrifying, high one like in 'The Shining,' but something more oriental, perhaps waist-high. I could be trapped in it only at my will; at any time I wished I could break the illusion of captivity by looking outside the maze. In 'The Elusive Embrace' the author has given us a great many vignettes from his past, focusing mainly on early childhood, his sexual coming-out as an undergraduate, and his present life (which combines the fun of life in lower Manhattan and a quasi-parental relationship with the son of a good friend in New Jersey). These passages are beautifully, even lyrically written (especially the ones at U.Va.), but unless you're one of the critics who enjoy the Asian maze conceit you may find them irritating. Major portions of the man's life are sealed off to us--we hear next to nothing of graduate school, nothing of his present professorship, nothing much of his teen years. For someone to write a book called 'The Elusive Identity' should imply he has found a working solution to that riddle. These memoirs emphasize the fact that he has not, and, as stylistically enchanting as some of it is, I did not find it worthwhile reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2000

    An Instant Classic

    Simply put, there is no other book on the market that intersects the quest for identity, classicist academic scholarship and (uncomparably) beautifully written text that is memorable, resonant and multilayered. Through weaving, comparing and integrating his personal history and the classicist discipline, where his expertise exists, the reader is transformed on multiple levels to try and understand who we are. Although there are many chintzy or poorly written texts that focus on self-discovery, this memoir surpasses all the rest due to the way he conveys his analysis and theories. The imagery and construction of each thought, each sentence--pure erudition, literary in the truest form, and not condescending to the reader at all. Daniel Mendelsohn is a classicist scholar, and I appreciate that he maintains the scholarly discussion throughout the course of the book; it gives the 'Elusive Embrace' such depth and complex layers that it is an erudition for all who read it. Yet, what I think is just as profound, is that he crafts 'The Elusive Embrace' in such a personal and inviting tone, that it draws the reader in and makes the whole experience more intimate. The exquisite images and keen physical details enhance and complement Mendelsohn's thesis. Plus, we really get to see his thought processes, analyses and, in a way, another perspective of how to view the notion of 'the self' and our individual selves. Needless to say, I could not put this book down. And it cannot be compartmentalized as being a 'gay' or 'Jewish' or 'Classicist' work. There is an amazing universality that this book possesses; I guarantee that each reader can relate to what Mendelsohn has so brilliantly laid out for us to explore. Don't miss out on this amazing book. After reading it, you'll see why Daniel Mendelsohn's, 'The Elusive Embrace' will be an instant classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2000

    Geographical Identity

    Mendelsohn has certainly a way of writing his memoires that sometimes portends to jamesian transitional elusiveness. One might find it a fault with a writer conveying such a deep and pervading theoretical background to the understanding of gay identity or gay nature that the mediation of such deep thinking lies within the subjective and poetical view which is a general core feature of writing memoires. But in the very nature of the subject lies the craving for the subjective view and therefore the conveyance and applicability of the thoughts displayed seem the more profound and truistic. Truistic in such a way that one feels: 'YES! Of course, why didn't I think of that'. There is on a 'meta'-level an almost Bergsonian angle on how to have a grip on reality. The play of memory has this characteristic feature of setting one's world in view. Further: The Bergsonian idea of 'elusive concepts' which should secure change and diversity in our always renewing grip on reality is fully displayed though implicitly in Mendelsohn's work - in the motion of the work. I know not and have not found evidence to the claim that Mendelsohn is inspired by Henri Bergson. But the elusiveness not only of the embrace physically but also mentally strikes me as an acting out of Bergsonian ideas.

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