Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Re: Reader

Thru all my AP tests; thru all my English optional reading list; thru all the Top 100 books to read lists -- I have created a list of the books I should read. The books the reappear on all these lists. The "Classics."

But after reading Nabokov's piece ['Good Readers and Writers'], I wonder if it would be more beneficial to me as a reader...and as a abandon my list for a bit and go back and reread books. 

As a consumer of books, would I be doing an injustice to those long ago critically acclaimed authors by leaving them behind for a reread of 'Where the Red Fern Grows' or ' Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'? Part of me feels this need to read those books constantly alluded to; those books always mentioned. And I feel like now is the time I can do that. But if I do read these 'classics', what am I giving up in the process? Does reading a lot of books make someone a better reader, because they are more comfortable with writing? Or does reading a select number of books..reread them, reread them, reread them...make someone a better reader?

I think the main question any of us have to ask ourselves [as readers of any type of text] is do we want to allow ourselves the time to reread?

"They mace me to blind me" - NWA

Hard to follow up such well written blogs, so I’m chumping out by using some evidence from the Text.

In the Introduction to Eagleton’s Literary Theory, he tackles the question of literature from the perspectives of predominate theories and movements, such as Formalism. I agree that the definition of literature is subjective and fluid. Eagleton observes that the Formalists recognize “…that “poetry” in this sense depends on where you happen to be standing at the time” (5). “But literature is usually judged to contain much besides poetry – to include, for example, realist or naturalistic writing which is not linguistically self-conscious or self-exhibiting in any striking way” (5,6). The colloquial language of Huck Finn is necessary in creating the context of the story. In this sense, however, it is poetic because its use in this Literature. Which came first, the writing or the meaning?

However, it is useful to apply some sort of boundaries: to weed out the Katy Perrys from the Animal Collectives. He brings up the problem of distinguishing Literary language from functional language.

“Any actual language consists of a highly complex range of discourses, differentiated according to class, region, gender, status and so on, which can by no means be neatly unified into a single homogeneous linguistic community” (4).

In accordance with Clint’s blog about Dr. Seuss, recognition of literature seems to more of a personal experience than anything else. In Eagleton’s words, “…literature may be at least as much a question of what people do to writing as of what writing does to them” (6).

Novel Ideas

I was talking to a friend about this class, and she thought it seemed quite strange that an English class would spend so much time studying works that, on the surface at least, don’t seem to belong in an English class. I mean, the syllabus has us discussing movies, a television series, and popular music albums. We’ll be analyzing the lyrics of tracks with such erudite titles as “Fuck tha Police” and “8 Ball”. It seems like we’ll definitely be exploring the fringes of what most people consider to be literature, and I think this is an important thing to note as we discuss our society’s movement away from reading.
            People may not be reading as many books nowadays, but does that necessarily mean we are producing less literature? Could it just be that ‘literature’ is expanding to include more nontraditional media forms such as movie scripts and rap lyrics? A search of the word literature yields: “writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features…” Sounds like a pretty broad definition to me. I don’t see why song lyrics couldn’t fit into that, certainly many use expression, and song form often borders on poetry. We even use the adjective ‘lyrical’ to describe prose passages. So while it may seem like not as many quality books are being written or read these days, you cannot argue that our generation hasn’t produced some astounding works of art, many of which could be considered literary works. With the development of a global music recording business, independent film, and the explosion of television, the last fifty years have allowed musicians, film directors, and even television writers to use language to communicate their themes and ideas in ways never before possible. Isn’t that literature?

Now, I’m not saying that Katy Perry connects with any “ideas of permanent and universal interest”, but there are certainly many lyrics that do, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t treat an album of that merit any different than a book of poetry. Perhaps in these new forms of literature we can find comfort despite the (arguable) decline of that oldest of literary works, the novel. I, like many of us, never seem to get as much reading done as I’d like to (I’ve been inching my way through infinite jest since October), but I take a little comfort in the fact that maybe listening to the lyrics of the new Animal Collective album or watching The Royal Tenenbaums is at least partially a study of literature.

Dickens to Dr. Seuss contd.

I agree that literature shouldn't have a set of requirements.
I'm not a religious person, but in my mind calling the Bible 'literature' sounds like a praise. I would also consider the Koran literature, as well as any other religious text. You don't have to be a believer of a religion to think that religious texts are beautiful pieces of literature. I think literature is any sort of writing that interests people; pretty much any published work at all. A person doesn't have to like the bible or Dr. Seuss but would have to admit that they are writings of interest to others so therefore they are literature to some people. You can think the ideas in The Communist Manifesto are completely horrible and wrong, but would have to admit that it is also literature to those that believe in it and even to some that don't believe in it but believe it is an important, well written document.
It doesn't need a specific definition. It is what it is but can also be considered something different to someone else.

Dickens to Dr. Seuss

I've been thinking on and off about what defines literature, not just since yesterday, but for a few months now. When most people the world think of "literature" they immediately think of difficult and complex books written by men and women of such esteem as, Faulkner, Austen, Steinbeck, and the like. There are a handful of authors and works that everyone can agree have achieved literary merit, but there are even more that are, to put it lightly, debatable. 
The best example I can think of is the Bible. At my high school they started a course called "The Bible as Literature," and it created quite the controversy. Before it was all over (and, in a way, it still isn't) there was a team of ACLU lawyers preparing to take the school district to court saying they violated the separation of church and state, and people were driving around with bumper stickers that read "We Support the ECISD Bible Curriculum." The base of the schism was that many Christians in town felt as if the bible wasn't "Literature" at all, they felt it was a book to live by. 
This episode is what originally made me decide that literature is relative. What I consider to be of literary merit might read like complete poppycock to someone else, and visa versa. Two of my favorite authors are Shel Silverstein and Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Occasionally I'll get into an argument with someone about how important Silverstein and Geisel's works are in the grand scheme of all things literature, but people usually agree or at least see my point of view on the subject, which tells me that people are generally willing to accept that their schema of literature might differ from other people's, and that it is okay. 
It might seem like a cop out answer, and maybe it is, but I can't help but think that literature isn't something that should have a set of requirements. It seems to me that as long as you walk away having learned something substantial from whatever you read, and enjoyed yourself in the process, it was literature. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Provocative statements

The statement I would like to gently disagree with is that authors simply aren't up to the caliber they once were, and that no writing in our generation will be considered "classic literature". Take a look at this passage from All the Pretty Horses by: Cormac McCarthy and tell me it's not the epitome of beautiful, clear literature:

"They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pasture-land. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The light fell away behind them. They rode out on where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swimming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode jaunty and circumspect, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing."

If that's not evidence enough look up Jonathan Safran Foer, Mark Z. Danielewski or Chuck Palahnuik or for some older but still "not quite classic" stuff look up Carson McCullers, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, or Alice Walker, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 

Why am I still Reading David Copperfield?

Before we left class this morning, the last topic we were discussing was why people spend much less time reading now than they did in the past. This topic interested me because over the winter break I had been asking myself a similar question. I have been reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens for the past five months, and I am not even half way through it. The book is really interesting, and I love it, but I find that I can spend hours watching Lost but can not dedicate that same amount of time to reading. I feel that our lives have become so busy that we cannot afford to give all our attention to one subject. When watching T.V., I could be washing dishes, and talking on my phone at the same time, and everything works out. However when reading, I need all my attention focused on one area, and with so much to do it is easier to do what is more convenient.

I also feel that in our society, reading has become something that people do in their free time. If it is not required, most people feel that they can use that time to do better things. In addition to that, our world with the internet and all our high speed technology is moving much faster than it did in the past. People are becoming used to having everything made “instant”, and it is hard to fit the act of reading a book, word for word, into our high-speed world.

Modern Novels: Eventually Canonical?

In class today, the theory that books now lack the same thought and quality that they once had came up. Someone said that's the reason that no one reads anymore. Now, I beg to differ. Sure, Twilight lacks depth and style and flirts with misogyny (although that last one is hardly new), and Harry Potter is more entertaining than anything else, but genuinely good books are being published all the time.

One of my favorite books is Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. It chronicles his miserable childhood in Ireland. It's entertaining, yes, but it makes some serious commentary on people and society, something generally revered and analyzed in old books in literature classes. Another book I adore is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver which is about a family of missionaries in Africa. The book, at 650 pages, is quite epic. The story is told from the point of view of the women in the family, mostly the daughters and occasionally the mother, switching narrators every few pages. Each daughter has a distinct personality and point of view. Something else about it that just occured to me is the fact that all the narrators are women, something worthy of note and analysis.

That's only two out of many books I've read and thought would probably be studied in English classes one day. My point, I suppose, is do not condemn the entirety of modern literature; just don't necessarily look to what 14 year olds are reading to find the good stuff.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Sentence is a Lonely Place

As I was reading “The Sentence is a Lonely Place,” a certain sentence hit home for me: “They [writers] seem content if the resultant sentence is free from obvious faults and is faithful to the lineaments of the thought or feeling or whatnot that was awaiting deathless expression.”

That pretty much describes my writing. As long as a sentence sounds good, flows, and has no mistakes, I move on. Even when I edit my papers I tend to read through and focus on it as a whole, rather than paying attention to the content of specific sentences. Gary Lutz’s passion towards and how meticulously he digests sentences blows my mind.

It seems like a good idea to keep the tactics Lutz described in mind when writing. Hopefully by doing so, I’ll be able to create sentences that “[look] and [sound] fulfilled, permanent.”