Aug 4, 2014

RIP Jim Thompson (1964-2014)

So yesterday evening Helsingin Sanomat told me that Jim Thompson passed away. Me, my significant other and Jim were first-years together at the University of Helsinki English department back when such a thing still existed. Unlike me, he graduated and went on to be a succesful author. We didn't really keep in touch; we exchanged some tweets a couple of times but that was it, and now I'm beating myself up a bit that I didn't get back in contact with him properly when I got over the worst of my problems.

My enduring memory of Jim is a Contemporary American Short Story class we took together. The course material was a short story anthology I've still got somewhere, and we would all read a story at home and show up in class to discuss it. The teacher would sort of shepherd the class toward the canonically accepted interpretation of the novel, which I totally understand, but it started getting a bit exasperating for me and Jim, and at some point we had kind of both decided to put up a fight. The occasion - if I recall correctly - was a story by Amy Tan, where the canonical interpretation was that the protagonist was struggling with their Chinese-American identity and needed to embrace her roots. We both felt that it was equally possible to read the story in the opposite way, that the obsession with "roots" was in fact what was causing the protagonist's problems. Purely on the principle that literature can and must be interpreted in different ways, and there isn't one "correct" interpretation of any damn text, we got into a debate with the entire rest of the class and the teacher. Next week, we did the same with a Paul Bowles story, and actually had fellow students complaining to us after class about why we were being so difficult and couldn't we just accept what the teacher said. I recall answering no, we couldn't. The teacher obviously understood what we were doing, and overall I thought we had some good debates.

That's one of my best memories of my short time majoring in English, and a dear memory of Jim. Rest in peace, friend. We'll miss you.

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