More than you ever wanted to know (was Re: answers from Diana)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Fri May 25 18:14:00 EDT 2001

>On Fri, 25 May 2001, Anna Skarzynska wrote:
>|Am I the only person who dislikes lit crit and dissecting literature? I
>|remember at school being told what the poet/author/whatever was thinking
>|when s/he wrote the work several hundred years ago, and thinking: Yes? And
>|how do YOU know that? And in what way is this relevant? And who, indeed,
>|cares? Is this singularly pointless, or what?

and Deborah said a lot of good things, including:

>ah, but it is a poor teacher who teaches you that literary
>criticism is
> 1) dissecting literature.  After you dissect something you have
> only component parts. *well* done literary criticism leaves you
> with a living frog once again
> 2) figuring out "what the author meant".  This is only  one
> school of literary criticism -- 1 which I personally despise,
> for exactly the same reasons you state -- and one which is
> unfortunately often taught by poor teachers.

Yeah.  What she said.  Doubled.  I was thinking about this in the car just a
minute ago, and realized that English teachers usually aren't hired on the
basis of how much they love books.  So it's possible to get a teacher who
only knows the rote answers and teaches those as if they were what lit crit
is all about.  This makes me seriously annoyed.  All I need now for steam to
start coming out my ears is for Elise to repeat the story about the teacher
who thought Thomas Hardy hated Tess.  <grrr>

And you, Ania, being intelligent, figured out the flaw in the way you were
taught: It is pointless.  It doesn't have any relevance to anything.  It
certainly doesn't bear any relevance to the reason any of us read in the
first place, which is to enjoy what we're reading.

>I suspect that those of us who like literary criticism were
>taught by people who love literature themselves, and who don't
>think there is only one way to read a book, and so don't destroy
>students' potential liking for literary criticism by trying to
>teach them the "right" way to read.

For me, it started with one good teacher.  It continued because I was a
snotty punk kid who knew I was smarter than my teachers and so disregarded
any obviously idiotic things they said.  And I was lucky never to have the
kind of teacher who fervently believed in the "facts" they were teaching, or
things would have gotten ugly (for me, since in school The Teacher Is Always
Right Even When She's A Flaming Moron).

*Good* literary criticism always enhances the reading experience.  If what
you're taught makes reading less enjoyable, then that's the bad kind.  But
since both kinds go by the same name, we have interesting conversations like
this one.  :)

Melissa Proffitt
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