Found this little gem via Bookslut: A post on University Diaries (a blog by an English Professor) that discusses what to look for in a professor of literature. UD quotes another professor, who wants his students to examine the literature they study in his classes in relation to their own lives and go from there. UD’s comment is that the point of studying literature is not personal identification, and that it also requires "a selfless, analytical interest in the form as well as the substance of aesthetic objects."
Having just completed 6 years of studying literature, I thought these comments were really interesting. I’m fairly sure I never once associated the content of the texts I studied to my own life, and I wouldn’t have even read most of them if I hadn’t been taking the course.
However, I would have found it extrememly hard to maintain "selfless, analytical interest" for 6 years, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the course at all if I hadn’t been able to engage with the novels on some kind of personal level. As much as the talk of the ‘human condition’ is a cliche, there is still something in it. For example, since I’ve never been orphaned, or been to prison, or even to South Africa, reading JM Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K should have been purely analytical. But I could still appreciate the loneliness and alienation of the main character, so some little personalisation doesn’t hurt.
The other thing this post made me wonder about was reading itself. Once you get trained in critical reading (reading for study, to pick out all the things you can bring up in an essay), can you ever read non-critically again? Can you ever pick up a book without looking for dominant themes and discourses? Will I ever be able to read the latest novel without looking for marginalisation and silencing?
The jury’s still out, I guess.