Cultural (dis)Connections: Memoirs of a Surrealist Scholar, by Renée [Riese] Hubert. Black Apollo Press. March 2006. $21.
Renée Hubert’s friend and colleague Marjorie Perloff seems to have started it all: her Vienna Paradox (New Directions, 2004) was, to the best of my knowledge, the first memoir by an immigrant Jewish (and, above all, perhaps, female) humanist to make good in the post-World War II American university. Both books are exceptionally rich in concrete particulars—evoking formative (even determinant) persons, places, and things des deux mondes et autres. Both trace the development of identity and method, as well as style, within the generally nurturing, if at times irrationally limiting, precincts of Columbia, Harvard, The Catholic University of America, and Stanford. But these parallel lines ultimately diverge. Perloff takes an Olympian view, ruminating about the impact of exchanging cultures and cultural change upon a socio-political and educational elite. For her part, the terre-à-terre Hubert focuses on personal quests, as a poet whose scholarly endeavors were consubstantial with—and as original as—her own lyrics. Hubert also shares more of her private experience, for example: her legendary marriage to 17th-century French scholar Judd Hubert; their intellectual collaboration as critics of artists’ books; their devotion to an adoptive daughter; and the temperamental factors that established affinities or chasms between them and their exquisitely portrayed colleagues. Cultural (dis)Connections is in its own way an artist’s book: it invites close and repeated reading for the pleasures and insights it uniquely affords.