Now, Where Have I Seen This Quote Before?

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"What typically takes place is that we recognize elements from some prior text and begin drawing comparisons and parallels that may be fantastic, parodic, tragic, anything.  Once that happens, our reading of the text changes from the reading governed by what's overtly on the page" (Foster 33-34). 

In Chapter 5 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, "Now Where Have I Seen Her Before?", Thomas C. Foster explains the importance of drawing parallels in our reading.  While he states that making these comparisons to other texts are not essential to our general understanding of the work of literature, they do give us that "aha! factor" and make us see beyond the text. 

Did you ever have a moment while reading, let's say, Shakespeare where you realize that if you did not have those little footnotes on the page that you would have barely understood the play at all?  There obviously was a reason for modern society to update the works of Shakespeare by adding footnotes to the published product.  There were not only words in there that we did not understand, but little anecdotes that were past our time.  If it was not pointed out to us that in the time of Romeo and Juliet, they believed that their lives were controlled by fate, then Romeo's quote in Act V of the play, "Then I defy you, stars" would have not held any significance to us in our understanding of the tragedy. 

In many modern books, however, there are no footnotes and it is left up to us to draw the comparisons between one text and another.  It obviously more beneficial to us, then, to have an expansive knowledge of other literary works. 

2 Comments

"Then I defy you, stars" might be taken as a Hollywood executive's response to a threatened actors' strike.

But seriously.. good comment, Lauren, and good job with the links -- you posted one from this page back to the course page, and one on the course page to this page. That's going to encourage people to join in your discussion both coming and going, and it shows you're using the two-way medium of hypertext to help organize the online discussion. The web can be a chaotic place, and links like the ones you created are a way of bringing order to that chaos. Thanks for setting a good example.

Greta Carroll said:

Yes, I agree, Lauren. Having those little footnotes are very helpful for older texts. When I read Candide by Voltaire last year it was full of those little footnotes. Since it was written in France in 1759 many of the allusions to other pieces of literature, historical events, or cultural references would have soared right over our heads. Therefore, the footnotes attempted to help prevent that. In more modern books though, as you commented we are not given these footnotes, since it is assumed that we know something about our own time, culture, and literature. I agree with you completely then, that it is to our benefit to be familiar with these things. In fact, I see it almost as our duty to at least have some foundational knowledge, especially if we consider ourselves to be educated. You make a good point though about the footnotes, I hadn’t considered them.

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