Buried Brilliance

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      The previous chapters of Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor to which I have been subjected have left me frustrated and confused. It is not the content that I find confusing, but why I am required to read it! Today, however, I was finally able to set my bias aside and appreciate his advice and teaching, "Violence in real life just is. If someone punches you in the nose in a supermarket parking lot, it's simply aggression. It doesn't contain meaning beyond the act itself. Violence in literature, though, while it is literal, is usually also something else" (Foster 88). I had never considered this before, and it struck me as universally true. As Foster explains, "Anna Karenina throws herself under a train, Emma Bovary solves her problem with poison...and Wile E. Coyote holds up his little 'Yikes' sign before he plunges into the void as his latest gambit to catch the Road Runner fails" (Foster 89).

      In previous chapters, Foster's attempt to create an "absolute literature rule that's always true," was annoying, but I see the validity of his argument in this case. For some readers who are reading for the plot, the violence remains literal, but for those who wish to interpret the novel or play, the violence is a symbol. Any violent act can, however, have different meanings to different readers because, as Foster reminds us, "Symbols...generally don't work so neatly. The thing referred to is likely not reducible to a single statement but will more probably involve a range of possible meanings and interpretations" (Foster 98). To return to Foster's previous example of a fight in a parking lot, the altercation would not only have a literal and symbolic meaning, but those meanings would differ from reader to reader. This is an absolute rule I can accept and appreciate.

 

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/02/foster_how_to_read_literature_2/

3 Comments

Aja Hannah said:

The same with me too. I blogged about this chapter also. I found that even if I tried to argue the point violence in a story has no purpose, I couldn't. Even just the surface violence like to move the plot has a point.

It would be interesting to analyze the violence in other stories perhaps popular fiction (instead of just literature) to see if there are symbolse.

Jennifer Prex said:

Even if a reader is reading for the plot rather than analysis, the violence can still have a greater meaning than just the surface understanding that someone was hit. Even setting symbols aside, there is always a reason for these actions within the plot.

Alyssa Sanow said:

For those readers who read for the "story" rather than the meaning behind the story, violence adds only to the plot. The symbolic meaning, however, is revealed only to those willing to put for the work to look for it. Violence that does not have meaning in the plot would be both confusing, pointless, and less likely to be viewed as having a symbolic meaning.

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