Foster's helping me cheat.

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As I read Chapter 18 of Foster's work, a quote that really didn't have much to do with baptism specifically caught my eye, and I thought I'd share it.

"'Always' and 'never' aren't good words in literary studies." (Foster, page 159)

When I read this quote I instantly agreed with Foster. I know I'm not supposed to go on a rampage about personal beliefs in my blogs or reflections, but I just have to say that being in the class and reading more books than I have before and analyzing and doing close readings has really made me realize that this quote is absolutely true. Foster has been giving us ways to analyze and interpret symbols and situations within dozens of novels, with a lot of examples, throughout his work. He hasn't been giving us things like "this ALWAYS means this," because, as he says, these aren't very good words to use when analyzing literature. I think that, as students, (or at least as people who are just learning to analyze literature), we sort of have this expectation that there is going to be one right answer. For me, the only thing I have really analyzed before this class was chord progressions in music theory class, and those ALWAYS are one thing. It's rare that they can be classified as more than one thing. So, when I start reading books and being told "this scene could indicate this, this, this, or this," I start to get a bit overwhelmed. I guess what Foster is trying to prove here is that his students have tendencies to use the words "always" and "never", and they shouldn't do that. He's trying to tell us that we shouldn't either, and I think that's very nice of him, considering that I've been using him to help me understand the other books I'm reading better. :)

So how about anyone else? Does anyone else actually USE the stuff you read in Foster to help you with this class? It seems to me that it's almost like a cheat sheet of analyzing literature. What tips has Foster given you that you've put into use throughout this course?

5 Comments

I'm glad to know you're finding Foster useful. Please feel free to share your personal opinions in your blogs, or in class, or in your half-page reading reflections. Yes, I'd like those reactions to be anchored in the text, just as you've done very nicely in this post. Good work.

Anyone want to help Sara answer her question?

Christopher Dufalla said:

I too find that Foster is more useful as the readings progress. I hadn't really given too much thought about his structure and style until Dr. Jerz had said that if all of it seems like things that we already know then Foster isn't wrong, and now, Sara, you bring up the point that he does not brand each literary element as one particular thing: there is indeed room for interpretation and some twisting. Additionally, the advice to avoid using "always" and "never" within literary analyses is very true.

Rosalind Blair said:

I find what I read in Foster really helpful when reading the other books that are required in class - and books that I may read on my own. And I agree with you and Chris, you can never say always and never because you never can be always right. And in order to interpret something to its fullest - you really need to focus on leaving out personal opinions.

Georgia Speer said:

I find Foster's work very helpful to me, for I know I have not ever analyzed literature before at this level. Again Foster tells us on page 159, "So in literary work does submersion in water always signify baptism? Well, it isn't always anything. Always and never aren't good words in literary studies." Once again Foster brings this to our attention, as he has described before on page 6 in chapter 1, "Always and never are not words that have much meaning in literary study." If this is reiterated again, than why does it seem to be used so much, are we to simply ignore these words because they have no relevance? For each time they are used the writer will come along with its use again but as to prove something else, I am a bit confused on this one? Although it seems to make some sense as I have read other chapters in Foster such as in chapter 20 page 181, "The seasons are always the same in literature and yet always different. Look for a set of patterns that can be employed in a host of ways, some of them straight forward, others ironic or subversive." So ignoring them totally isn’t the answer, it is just to find patterns and the author’s writing as evidence to back up what our interpretation and claim is. At least that is what I am getting from this, anyone else?

Jessica Bitar said:

I also find Foster's book to be helpful when I read other books. When I first started reading the book I really didn't understand what it's purpose was, but now I seem to be relating it to most of the books I read. I agree with you about ALWAYS and NEVER. I expected things to always have one meaning, but they never do. Always and never can have powerful meanings on a piece of work, that the author might cause the reader to interpret the passage the wrong way. I too agree with Georgia that always and never are used often in literature, and if that is the case, why should we ignore them, they must have some importances. (I guess I'm kind of in the middle on this one.)

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