Throw away everything you learned.

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"The rain is neither ironic nor not ironic; it's simply rain. That simple rain, however, is placed in a context where its conventional associations are upended." How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster chapter 26 page 239
When I first read this line, I was utterly shocked. I am used to Foster contradicting himself quite a bit but I had thought that he had completely gone nuts. How could everything that he had been trying to explain about symbols and signs all of a sudden be thrown out of the window? 
As I kept reading the chapter, I began to find it interesting that the more irony there is in a story, the more Fosters whole entire book is basically useless. The fact that he even acknowledges the fact made it even better: "In other words, every chapter in this boo goes out the window when irony comes in the door. " I would have never thought of something like that. It almost makes me think that all the stuff that was previously learned was a joke to a point. If irony can wipe out of Fosters teachings, then what else can?


5 Comments

Andrew Adams said:

Your point reminds me of when Sigmund Freud said "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Sometimes rain is just rain, sometimes it is ironic rain. That's what I feel is a big problem when trying to write a book laying out "rules" for literature. However, I do feel that this book is more about getting more out of books than trying to be a rule book, so in that capacity it is useful.

As for what else could wipe out his teachings, I'm sure there is at least one more thing that could. Loop holes are pretty much impossible to avoid when talking about something as ambiguous as literature.

I don't think you can even have loopholes for literature, since there really are no "rules" in the first place. I think it's like they said in Pirates of the Caribbean about the pirate code: "They're more like guidelines than actual rules."
Rain can be symbolic, but it doesn't have to be. The fact that it has in the past but is not in A Farewell to Arms produces the irony. If there were no expectations to begin with, then there would be no irony, because irony is all about contradicting expectations. I don't think you could even have this chapter on irony if you didn't have all the chapters before that explain what you should traditionally expect from different devices in literature. In a world without expectations, Alanis Morissette would not have been able to write that song. You would have no reason to expect that it wouldn't rain on your wedding day, because nothing in your life experience would tell you that wedding days should be sunny and perfect. I could go on and on with that song, but I won't take up too much space on your blog. Anyway, I think it's really the whole rest of the book that makes the chapter on irony possible. And here's a link to the song I'm referencing:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v9yUVgrmPY

Rebecca Marrie said:

Honestly, Foster's extreme contradictions are driving me insane. I mean, I understand that his ideas will work in some cases and not others, but why does he even bother voicing his unproven opinions? Every book is subject to a different way of interpretation. Their is no foolproof method.

Carlos Peredo said:

You're so right. You can't ever make rules for literature because everyone will want to break it. To answer your question, authors can also make the whole thing fly out the window. Any author can say "I'm tired of symbol X meaning Y so let me do the exact opposite."

You guys have hit on exactly why I assign Foster. He knows that the best way to read literature is with an open mind, with the knowledge that you will have to defend every interpretation you wish to make. We can't expect to find a book of rules that work every time, because as Carlos notes, any rule that works even most of the time will be a target for some creative writer who sees an opportunity to surprise the readers and make them think.

Note also, the supreme irony that Foster invokes, when eh says that irony makes his own book useless. He knows exactly what he's doing -- he's refusing to give you The Right Answer that you can memorize for a multiple choice quiz.

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