January 28, 2007

Stop Criticizing Me

"Every reading is an act of criticism and every reader is a critic." (1)

Some of us, however, are a bigger critic than others.

Donald Keesey's Introduction briefly overviews the idea that there are several different ways to interpret a text, each with its own variations, and although one cannot say whether one is "right" or "wrong" they are all valid in their own way. As per the quote, we are all critics and can make inferrences and judgements on literature and can validate these readings. Personally, I'm doubting this a bit.

I've always been the type to view some forms of literary criticism as a bit of a stretch. Sometimes a story is just a story, as sometimes a flower is just a flower. No hidden meaning or agenda...just a basic tale. Granted, I know this isn't true in most cases, but I've always felt that some could take the interpretting a bit too far. If I claim that the paper a character was writing on is symbolic of his inner fear of committment, does that make me right? Or just crazy?

So how did we get from people just talking about literature and drawing their own idea on it to an actual study? If we are all critics, as per the quote, then why so many schools of thought on literary criticism? The "real" literary critics must have come from somewhere; their ideas taken from some school of thought. They are the ones that set the standards for how we evaluate literature and what ideas we can infer from it. Sure, we may all be critics of literature, but it doesn't mean we're all worth listening to.

Posted by VanessaKolberg at January 28, 2007 3:35 PM | TrackBack

Vanessa, perhaps what Eliot wrote in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" will help you address this question. Yes, it is possible to stretch almost anything to the point of ridiculousness, but just because it is possible to do something to excess does not take away the value of doing it in moderation.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 28, 2007 4:08 PM

Oh, I'm certainly not saying it doesn't have merit! I just bring a bit of skepticism to it at times, but do not undervalue the importance of literary criticsm. Without it, important works that should be read as way more than just a story are appreciated. I'm not being anti-lit crit, I swear! haha

Posted by: Nessa at January 28, 2007 4:16 PM

Yeah, it'd be a little early to become anti-lit. crit, don't you think? haha

As for the schools of thought, I think that "the" literary critics (i.e. the folks whose works we're about to embark upon) became critics by profession through their love for literature (whatever that is) and the joy they get from the application of critical theory. I think that it's like being an archaeologist sometimes... digging at things hoping not to chip away at the meaning, but to emphasize meaning.

The schools of thought probably spring from a time when it was popular to think in that way--Freudianism, for example, isn't all the rave anymore, but it was popular at one point, and so an -ism is born. Sometimes I think things are better left undefined, or at least loosely so, because I find that definition is arbitrary to what I think and what I read. The -isms lead us, but don't define literary criticism. At least that's what I think...

Posted by: Karissa at January 28, 2007 6:32 PM

I'm going to create a way of reading called Valerism. In this type of reading, everything one reads will make absolutely no sense at all, and will eventually result in a headache.

Tell me that's not a method worthy of substantial praise. I will then show you a girl who has been practicing this method for the past few days.

You expressed my thoughts exactly--what happened to just having a nice story? I do admit, however, that I enjoy getting to the bottom of a reading.

I watched a Curious George episode the other day, where George starts peeling wallpaper off the bathroom walls (the episode was about different types of wrappings), only to find layer after layer of wallpaper that belonged to people who lived in the apartment before he and the Man in the Yellow Hat. I'm starting to associate literary criticism with that wallpaper--there are many layers behind the surface, all contributed by those from the long-ago past, as well as those in the present time.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at January 28, 2007 8:16 PM

Curious George and the Yellow Wallpaper

George was a good monkey, and always very curious. Sometimes, being curious made him tired.

"You shouldn't be so curious, Geroge," said the Man in the Yellow Hat. "Monkeys aren't supposed to be quite as curious as you. They shouldn't look for Freudian significance in everything they read. They shouldn't look for symbols of oppression and lingustic constructions of power. Let's spend the summer in the country, where you can rest, and you can be more like all the other monkeys, eating bannanas and flinging your own poop."

The Man in the Yellow Hat took George to the country, and showed him a room in the attic. It had bars on the walls.

"Look," said the man. "The wallpaper is yellow!"

George looked at the man's hat, then looked at the yellow wallpaper, and back at the man's hat.

He knew his friend had told him not to look for symbolism or lingusitc constuctions of oppression, since those things made his head hurt. So he closed his eyes, and tried to be more like a good monkey -- the kind of good little monkey he had been before his friend had lured him out of the safety of the jungle, kidnapped him from his natural habitat, earned his trust, and then promptly abandoned him in the big city.

He opened his eyes again, and there was the Man with the Yellow Hat, testing the bars of the room. "Boy, these bars sure are strong!" said the man. "They'd be strong enough to keep anyone inside -- even a curious little monkey!"

[Anyone want to take it from here?]

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 28, 2007 8:49 PM

George was curious. He immediately delved into deep, critical thinking, and associated the yellow wallpaper and strong bars with the Man in the Yellow Hat's captivity of himself. He realized he was being oppressed, and so he lunged at the man and ate his hat.

That's all I got.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at January 28, 2007 10:56 PM

Nice association, Val. I like the wallpaper layer idea. Share that in class, why don't you?

Posted by: Karissa at January 29, 2007 12:01 AM

Val, that's not how "The Yellow Wallpaper" ends. She goes mad and kills herself [insert discussion of whether the character kills herself or not here].

Posted by: Nessa at January 29, 2007 8:27 AM

I love the wallpaper idea, Val. I remember peeling the wallpaper in my shower when I was 4 because I thought it was fun. I wonder if it was after seeing that episode because I was a huge fan of the show. Now the theme song is stuck in my head. The Man in the Yellow Hat always says "Let's go home, George," at the end of every episode. What could that mean from a Freudian perspective? Sometimes I think literary critics do get carried away with labels, but I think it's helpful to learn why we may have a reaction to a book as opposed to just liking or disliking something.

Posted by: Erin Waite at January 29, 2007 9:23 AM

Maybe she does or doesn't. I think it's better that George eats the hat, because he associates the hat with his captivity.

Plus I saw a Curious George t-shirt once of George lying dead next to a can of ether, and that broke my heart.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at January 29, 2007 12:14 PM

I hear "linguistic oppression" and can't help but express my utter disdain. Here's a Curious George story I think we should think about:

Curious George was an innocent little monkey, but because the Man in the Yellow Hat had money, he went to Curious George's crib with a recently-purchased net and swept him away.

"Hon, hon, hon!!!" the Man in the Yellow hat said with a nasally French accent. "I got you now, you filth! And you're going to werk for me!!!"

Curious George began to cry. But, he remembered something about himself: he was curious! He started to explore why the greedy man in the Yellow Hat made every poor little monkey who had not had the privilege nor resources to evolve like the Man.

Then one day, while the Man was stuffing his face with fried turkey, Curious George started to band with his fellow monkeys and create a riot on the Man's dining room table.

"You stupeed monkeys! I fert on your revolution!"

After they locked the greedy Man in the attic, the monkeys started to read the classics that the Man never let them read. Soon, after the monkeys began to feel they could not be duped as easily by the Man in the Yellow Hat, they let him out and things were once again normal.

Viva la revolucion!

Posted by: Evan at January 29, 2007 2:08 PM

Val, that picture of George and the ether is actually from one of H.A. Ray's books... he's not dead, but there is freak-out sequence where all the lines get blurry, George gets wings, and he starts to float.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 29, 2007 3:23 PM

Are you all on crack? How do you have time to invent episodes of Curious George with all the work we have to do?!?! Lol, no, this whole discusssion gave me a much needed laugh. I think I might make it through this class after all! Thanks Val for starting the wallpaper thing...very appropriate, too considering next weeks reading. (See that is why everyone wants to sit next to you in class!)

Posted by: Lorin Shcumacher at January 31, 2007 10:42 PM
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