Stanford professor and longtime contributor to the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, the New Republic, Slate, and other publications, Terry Castle is widely admired for the wit, panache, intellectual breadth, and emotional honesty of her writings on life, literature, and art. Now, at long last, she has collected some of the more personal of her recent essays in a single volume. Several pieces here are already acknowledged classics: "Desperately Seeking Susan," the celebrated account she wrote in 2005 of her droll and somewhat bittersweet friendship with Susan Sontag; "My Heroin Christmas," a darkly humorous examination of addiction, her family and stepsiblings, and the late, great jazz saxophonist Art Pepper; and the picaresque "Travels with My Mother," a rollicking travelogue that brings together Castle's complicated relationship with her mother, lesbianism, art, and the difficult yet transcendent work of the painter Agnes Martin.
At the center of the collection, however, is the title work, published here for the first time: a candid and wrenching exploration of Castle's relationship, during her graduate school years, with a female professor. At once hilarious and rueful, it is a pitch-perfect recollection of the fiascos of youth: how we come to own (or disown) our sexuality; how we understand (or don't) the emotional needs and wishes of others; how the ordeals of desire can prompt a lifelong search for self-understanding.
In this account of a sentimental education, as in all the essays in The Professor and Other Writings, Terry Castle reveals herself as a truly remarkable writer: utterly distinctive, wise, frank, and fearless.