Lesson #1: All you know is not all there is to know.
“A good critic is trying to tell you what she has learned about herself from the reading of a particular piece of literature. A bad reviewer is often trying to tell you how smart he is by declaring whether or not he liked a particular book. If he liked the book, then this is the kind of book a superior person likes, and vice versa. He might try to explain why he didn’t like it, but the review is really just a tautology. “I didn’t like this book because it is bad,” is equivalent to “This book is bad because I didn’t like it.”
― Kevin Guilfoile
I learned not to be a snob.
Yakov Bok exclaims “Who am I to compare myself?” and I would add “Why compare at all?”
This course has taught me not to view literature as a stratified reading experience, meaning lower level courses are just as enriching as the upper graduate ones. That is not to say I was attended class close-minded and sitting on a high horse, but that I had my doubts as to how much is left to teach me. English literature courses had become repetitive, I’d surmised, but most of that boredom was due to my unwillingness to believe I’d only touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Lesson #2: Meaning should be diagnosed as D.I.D (Dissociative Identity Disorder)
Like that Lay’s® potato chip, I dared myself to be satisfied with just one. Just one meaning ofa word, a turn of phrase, a motif, a character, an absence. But like that freakin’ Lay’s® advertised, you can’t have just one.
Yes, I realize I’m stretching this a bit, but ‘If the shoe fits…’!
Whatever. Moving on…
We’ve read a great variety this semester, but the three texts that have stuck with me are (in no particular order):
(1) Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer
(2) The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
(3) Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
They made me think. I felt my insides twist and my concept of “compassion” was threatened and some nights kept me from ‘manufacturing some Zs’. (< —- See what I did there? )
Didn’t feel too ‘premium’ with myself and how I’ve contributed to the desolation of the world, or at least the perceived desolation.
Was I half empty or half full?
I didn’t even want to look.
But both meanings can be construed and both are right. The litmus test applies to literature as well, within reason of course, when backed up with textual evidence.
If you read the same book twice and extract the same meaning, you’re not doing it right.
Lesson #3: Reading is a form of transportation.
I’ve gotten lost, been tricked, picked up pesky hitchhikers called “sentiment”, and made it to the end just to realize I didn’t allow myself enough time and space to appreciate the view and the locals.
This summer, I hope to board that train again.
Lesson #4: Universalism is tempting
I still believe the works chosen as exemplars of “Major American Books” is an arbitrary list. There are countless others that would have been just as cool.
Whether this particular group was compiled because of a deliberate motif in mind or was just a serendipitous result, I would argue that ANY worthwhile books brought in would speak to some length on the human condition, its fallibility, and enduring search for Truth (yes, with a capital T).
Now, what does ‘worthwhile’ mean?
Does the exclusive classical canon encompass the crème de la crème of “Major American Books”?
There is a biblio-politics (Rasha-ism) involved. There is money at work, connections, fame, and a plethora of other pre-disposed conditions to notoriety. At times they live up to their scholarly hype, and at other times they’re 50 Shades of Bullshit.
(I think) But there is a single thread at work, yes even in Twilight.
What does it mean to be human?
Do we meet that ideal or are we constantly falling short of our own expectation?