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How do we compete?

"I'm not, however, going to attempt even a sketchy summary of all the variant readings of the poem; instead I want to consider a point that none of the innumerable readings I've come across has made--at least, none has done so emphatically enough" (Guetti 386).

This notion of "innumerable readings" has been an ongoing muddy point for me this semester. I often feel small, inexperienced, and unimportant in the midst of all the criticism available. The fact that so many different interpretations exist for a single text often leads me to the brink of despair: I still don't know how to distinguish which interpretation is better than the next. Furthermore, I've nearly lost all hope of ever being able to introduce a new, creative interpretation that is actually plausible. When reading the critical essays assigned each week, I often wonder how can I compete? How can I create any worthwhile critical argument with them to follow, particularly when they seem to know so much more than I do about their critical subjects. It seems to me that in order to truly write a critical argument of even the smallest amount of value, I need to entirely devote myself to my topic. The critics we've read before us seem to have done so. For example, Guetti mentions the "innumerable readings" she's come across aboout "Ode on a Grecian Urn" along with nonchalantly referencing the works of numerous critics and the letters and preliminary poems of Keats as if they were common knowledge. The level of background knowledge that goes into these essays is astounding, and as an undergraduate student with more responsibilities than this class alone, I often feel distressed by how much I don't know, especially when I think of all the time I don't have to spend on teaching myself this information.

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Comments (3)

Ellen, you are not alone in this feeling of despair. It has even found its way into my other classes. I feel that it has all been done, so how can I come up with an original thought or idea. This semester has been overwhelming and difficult. And when I look at the exhaustive amount of information and background knowledge it took these critics to write their essays I get discouraged and a bit overwhelmed. But, I do believe that all of us have learned much from each other this semester and it is almost over, we can all survive this together.

That is true. It looks like were in the same boat in terms of having an overwhelming and difficult semester, Mara. But I like how you point out how much we've learned. It's true: while I haven't been able to find enough time in the day to do things as well as I would like, on the bright side, I've learned an incredible amount from my efforts...and not just "intellectual" skills, either. This semester has taught me a lot about myself: it's taught me how to prioritize, to recognize what I truly value in life, and to push myself to the limit. Because of my hard work, I can be proud of my accomplishments as a student, as an athlete, as a Head RA, as a person. This semester has taught me that one of the most important things in life is being able to look in the mirror and say, "I've tried my hardest, and that's all that anyone can ask of me." If I can do that, I can be satisfied with my efforts no matter the outcome.

Yes, being able to manage your time, to read efficiently and diligently when you have time and to skim effectively and intelligently when you don't, and choosing your priorities is an important skill. I remember in grad school there was a book required for a class, and I was skimming through in the bookstore; I wasn't sure I wanted to buy it. Instead I skipped the one class in which we were talking about that book. I shouldn't have done that, but I spent that time working on some other class, and life went on. You are taking one class on lit-crit, so you are part-time literary critic. Yes, there's plenty to be learned from studying the models in our book, but the pros have years of experience on all of us. I agree we have much to gain by looking at our progress, rather than worrying about imperfection.


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