Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Reading, Writing, and.... Marxismitic
I love reading. My brain loves it. It just feels good to have words and thoughts and perspectives and ideas and experiences and concepts skipping across my brain...leaping cheerfully from dendrite to axon to dendrite again. I love writing because it enables me to pin down all the thoughts swirling in my head, to make them concrete, to make them readable-- so I can understand them. And once the thoughts are out, I enjoy finding ways to make them clear and interesting and fun.
In college I decided to major in English because I loved reading and I loved writing and I figured studying literature would afford a magical way for me to do what I loved while earning a college degree.
What the English major turned out to be, actually, was a whole helluva lot of skimming, followed by hours of pretentious classroom discussion and paper writing. It turns out one does not simply read and experience and respond to a text-- one is expected to analyze the literature into a pulp, drain out its joy, smear it with words like "juxtaposition," "dichotomy," and "phallic," shape it using Marxism or Feminism or Freudianism or Deconstructionism or Someotherism, and serve it with a side of smug symbolism.
I will admit that formal literary analysis can be entertaining in small doses. It also, however, carries the side effect of robbing a story or a poem or an essay of its spiritual essence. You break something down into its component parts and it ceases to be what it is--particularly if you then take those component parts and shape them into what you want them to be. Reading Shelley's Frankenstein and analyzing it from a post-modernistic perspective can certainly be interesting, engaging, and even have a insightful end result-- but it's kind of like taking a cookie into a science lab, reversing the effects of the baking and mixing, and using the raw ingredients to make a cake. Nothing wrong with it, really, but why not just enjoy the cookie? And wouldn't it be more efficient to just bake a cake from scratch?
I suspect my inability to fully connect with my own chosen field of study is somewhat related to my refusal to pick favorites. I dislike questionnaires that ask about my favorite color/movie/book/TV show/vacation spot because I am completely incapable of ranking things in order of goodness. I think each color can be perfect under the right circumstances. I believe different books are good for different reasons. On a vacation, a soul's current needs might best be served by something nearby and simple-- or maybe something far away and exotic would be best. It all just depends. There are things I love, and things I don't love, but it's hard to rate such subjective and personal things on a cold hard scale of "best" to "worst." (This is also the reason I despise beauty pageants, but that's a rant for another day.)
So the question arises: why am I going on about this? The short answer is that I seem to be incapable of brevity. The long answer is that this is my way of explaining why I've decided to change the title of my "Book reviews" posts to "Reading Journal." In my mind, the purpose of a book review is to analyze a text and describe its worth to others, and that's not really what I'm attempting to do when I write about the books I've been reading. Mostly I just want to share my reading experiences because they are important to me. I want to talk about why I read the books, what they meant to me, how I felt, and the questions they made me ask.
So, anyway, you members of my vast and loyal readership, just know that I know that this big change is going to rock your collective world, and that I hope this essay has sufficiently prepared you for this blog-shattering change. Hopefully sometime this week I will have time to actually post my most recent reading journal entries.