Monday, August 31, 2009

This Post Never Happened

I had a really nice weekend. A going-away birthday potluck on Thursday, an old U of Blank English alumni coming down for a dance night on Friday. (is alumni the plural? Should I be saying alumnium? alumnius? If only I took a year's worth of Latin classes at some point in the past. Oh, right. And it feels odd that I can actually know alumni from the program after only being here a grand total of three terms. ) Despite my aversion to dance and dance-related phenomena, it was a good time. And Saturday and Sunday were largely spent saving Gotham City from the Joker. I mean, studying for comps.

Speaking of studying for comps, remember how I resolved earlier not to speak about comps? Well, I'm sticking with that. But I still feel a need to talk about the latest book, so I'm going to talk about it without referring to its author, title, or subject matter.

What's left after you strip away all of that is the impact the book had on me, and this impact is crater-shaped. I was about a hundred pages into the book when I realised I'd read it before. My English undergraduate course work is a little spotty; not because I didn't do the work, but because I did a double major in Math and English, there were some holes left in my education. I've taken steps to fill these holes, but for the longest time, lit theory in general was one of the more gaping ones. Additionally, aside from the seminar courses, the courses at U of Someplace Else all went out of their way to tell me NOT to use secondary sources, but rely on my own ideas. (Maybe it was some sort of departmental edict?) This methodology created another set of holes, which also took time to fill--and, to its benefit, also forced me to never use secondary sources as a crutch and to build and construct my own arguments. I will note, though, that my 19th century ecocriticism professor nearly wore out a red pen trying to teach me how to properly do a works cited page.

All of this is to build to a single point: in my undergraduate career, I only had to read one book of lit theory from beginning to end. It was for a seminar course I took in my second year, and the book was 600 pages long. That's a lot of theory to inflict on an undergraduate sophomore. Though ridiculously long, the book was well-written, and as I read it again, some seven years later, what it left really stood out.

Because I've already dropped the Coleridge ball, I can mention that his theory of associativity may be at work here. Coleridge said that people associate ideas with other ideas through various associations, and, in this case, we've got a temporal association at work, with the book as the anchor. As I read through it more recently, I was reminded of who I was when I first read it. I think this holds for every book that affects someone greatly, and especially if there's been a lot of time between a small number of readings. And what struck me on this reading was how much of the book had sunk into my general literary philosophy, without me even realizing it. The author is big on a close reading followed by a historical situating. More importantly, the way he uses the texts in a way that doesn't come up in literary criticism as often as you might think. I'm going to give it the italics emphasis: he presents the texts in such a way that you actually want to read them. Now, I'm not saying that this should be the main focus for literary criticism, or even a focus, in some situations. But it's a nice change of pace to see someone who's that enthused about the work itself.

It's funny; I don't really agree with his actual literary theory now, and I don't think I even understood it enough to disagree then. But the style, the method, hell, I'll go as far as to say the ethos of his writing is something I instinctively agreed with, because it was the same way I looked at literature. Looking back, I can't begin to estimate how important this work has been for the direction my scholarly pursuits have gone in since. But I'm glad for the opportunity to look back at my critical roots.

Comps exams: a voyage of self-discovery.

Anyway, I might do a post tomorrow, but between internet problems (every internet application works at home EXCEPT the browsers. My computer hates me.) and an upcoming mini-vacation, I'm going to be in absentia till Friday. Try to last till then.

Later Days.

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