Responding to Literature
For pages 3-6, the most important idea is that reading critically is important, not only to grasp some of the more hidden meanings, but also to make reading a fulfilling experience.
Other important ideas that this section makes is that literature can show us the world around us in a different light, from different cultural, historical, and social perspectives, which can help us understand our world more and give us a richer meaning to our lives. With that said, reading cannot be a passive pastime. When reading, the reader must constantly be aware of the feelings that he experiences, of the thoughts that bubble up, no matter how insignificant they seem to be, because they will show him connections between the fiction and reality and make him aware of the larger reality that his experience alone would not compensate for.
This reminds me of something my physics teacher said. In the first class this semester, he said that there had been a study done on creative people, and one thing that they found consistent in their results, no matter what field the people specialized in, the people who showed the most creativity were the ones who could pull something that they observed or experienced before and apply it to something else, where the connection was not so obvious. So in a way, learning from literature and paralleling it with our own lives and experiences is a lesson in creativity and, as the video we first saw in this class, creativity is the driving force of our world today. By reading literature critically, we are helping ourselves by training our creativity to flourish and in the long run, we’ll help ourselves because of this.
Several questions did occur to me, but mostly the questions pertained to the author. He introduces his essay by defending literature, calling it relevant, as if this is a debate, and then he begins to discuss expanding the literary canon. Except the way he presents this literary canon, the great works of the world seem to be frozen in space and every great work is divided into cultural categories. You cannot be well read if you only read English literature--you must also read other work by other cultures to get a better picture of the spectrum of cultures. This doesn’t really jive with what I know. As a girl, I studied mythologies all over the world and I have found that we share many of the same stories, and that many cultures have developed stories that are very similar to other cultures without being exposed to those other cultures. Since much literature follows the lead of these mythologies, I have to wonder: is the author referring to the stories or the way the stories are written when he talks about being exposed to different cultures?
Writing about Literature
For pages 36-40, the most important idea is that it’s not enough to have reactions to what we’re reading--we must record them as well.
Other important ideas that this section makes is that upon reading a great piece, a plethora of intangible emotions and experiences will begin to bubble out, but these feelings and memories won’t necessarily make any sense or be meaningful unless we organize it in a meaningful way to us.
This reminds me very much of web-blogs. I have about seven web-blogs scattered across the internet, and very often, if something stressful happens to me, I will write about it in one of these web-blogs. At first, when I first start writing a new web-blog entry, it’ll feel like my thoughts are spiraling out of control, but then as I start writing, my thoughts seem to become just as concrete as the words I am typing up. This is because these thoughts that occurred to me become vocalized and now they are not mere wisps of feeling but tangible thoughts. George Orwell wrote that clear language and clear thinking go hand in hand with each other. Clear thinking cannot happen all the time, but by using clear language to describe these vague thoughts, we can transform these muddled thoughts into clear ones and make sense out of our own lives.
Since books are extensions of our own experiences, it is only natural that we should write about the feelings that occur to us as we read and react to literature. Currently, I am reading The Great Gatsby, and I know that there have been several times already that I wanted to slam the book in the wall, not because I hated it, but because events occurred that I knew weren’t right. For instance, in the beginning, there is a scene that seemed creepy to me, but I didn’t know why at first. The scene was during the meeting of Nick and Daisy, and everything is moving in the house--the white curtains the pictures, even the furniture--and it’s almost like Nick is holding his breath because he doesn’t want to move anything more. There are only two things in the room that aren’t moving--the two women, Jordan and Daisy. Instead of moving, they’re just frozen there, unaware of the tempest that is going around them. I didn’t realize why the scene was creepy at first, but as I began to write about the scene, I realized that the reason I thought it was creepy was because everything is moving in the house in such a fury that it seems like everything is alive--except for the women. They are dead to everything. So the curtains wave around and suddenly they seem to be ghosts, haunting a gaudy, empty home full of unmoving, empty people.
The only question that really occurred to me about this short passage was a question from the line that said, “...some critics argue that the reader can never fully recover the writer’s purpose.” As an as-of-yet unpublished novelist, I can say that some of my intentions for the story changed as I wrote and rewrote it, simply because as a human, I have changed as well. In fact, some of my perceptions of my story changed because of the different reactions that my test readers had to the story. So I ask those critics: is it possible for the writer to ever fully recover his purpose?