If the way I remember the material from this class is anything like the way I remember my high school classes, I think what will stick with me will not be the details of each work, but the general themes that ran throughout the class. So assuming that the Mayans were wrong and time continues beyond December 21, 2012, what big themes will I associate with this class in 15 years?
One theme that really resonated for me was the duality and interdependence of good and evil. This has already been touched on in other blog posts, but this idea was brought up in Areopagitica, and then expanded (much more accessibly, in my opinion) in Blue Velvet. This whole “good cannot exist without evil” thing is hardly a new idea, but our class discussions were the first time I was every really forced to sit down and contemplate and discuss it seriously. Considering it’s one of the loftier metaphysical ideas around, I have no doubt our discussions will serve to enlighten future conversations and add layers of depth to other works and texts. So while I may not remember Frank Booth, Jeffrey, or what’s-her-face in 2024 and I’ve already purged a good portion of Areopagitica from my brain, I’m confident that the ideas about the nature of good and evil that these texts brought up will stick with me nonetheless.
This has also already been expanded on by others, but I’ll definitely think of this class whenever I hear the question “What is Literature?” This question was pervasive throughout the semester, but I’ll especially remember On the Pornographic Imagination’s discussion of the artist as “a freelance explorer of spiritual dangers”, someone “making forays into and taking up positions on the frontiers of consciousness”, not least because it makes being an English major sound really exciting, but also for bringing up the idea that no subject is necessarily unliterary. I’ll even begrudgingly remember Literary Theory, especially since I have a feeling I’ll be referring back to it in semesters to come. The metaphor of the different theories as lenses through which to view a text is a good one, and I definitely added some lenses to my arsenal this semester. This class also definitely helped (read: forced) me to reevaluate my definition of Literature, something that I’ll definitely remember as my personal definition solidifies in years to come. But even more, I’ll now start recognizing literary qualities in many more non-text works, as our work with Blue Velvet, The Wire, Straight Outta Compton, and Highway 61 Revisited, has taught me to do. While the subjectivity of what is considered Literature was a bit scary at first, I now see that it is one of the qualities that makes Literature such a interesting subject to study, and I’m glad that Eagleton left the “what is Literature?” question open, so that we could write the next chapter. (Sorry that was really cheesy, couldn’t resist)
Another theme I noticed was the “everyone’s playing some sort of game” theme that stretched across The Wire, Good Old Neon, and Lolita. What I mean by this is the way all these works focused (some more than others) on the aspect of life that’s just putting on a show for other people or just playing their games. While this is certainly most evident in Good Old Neon, reading that short story sort of opened my eyes to this theme in other works. In Lolita, we really get a personal look in H.H.’s mind, or so he’d like us to think. As we read, we must be wary of H.H.’s game, and keep his motives (to persuade us that he is innocent) in mind. This complicates the novel, and really adds another layer of depth when you realize just how cunning H.H. is being. In The Wire, we must keep track of each character’s motivations and the difference between who they appear to be and who they are. Even though D’Angelo actually wants to get out the drug business and is a pretty softhearted guy, he must play the role of hardcore thug; even though Avon is running the town, he’s still scared when he sees his brother lying in the hospital, etc. etc. The difference between who people are trying to appear to be and who they actually are is an important concept not only in literature but in everyday life. As Krzys brought up, even being a student is just a game, in a way. Throughout our career as students we struggle to get a X on our SAT, or keep a GPA above Y, to show people that we’re good students or smart or whatever. But it’s all just a game we’re playing to get into college or make dean’s list or get a job or whatever, these numbers only have the meaning we give them. Life exists without all these little rules and all this pretending to be something we aren’t, and we’ll be a lot better off if we can know when we need to play the game, and when we need to pull an Omar and play the game by our own rules.
In conclusion, this is by far the most interesting class I took this semester (although there wasn’t much competition) a lot of it thanks to everyone’s good insights in class or on the blog. So whether you said something I hadn’t thought of, showed me a different side to an argument, or even just posted a funny link on twitter, thanks a lot. Seriously (and double thanks to YOU, person who reads to the end of other people’s blogs, even when they’re long and rambling). I’ll see some of you around campus I’m sure, but otherwise, good luck to everyone, in whatever games you choose to play.