Killing What We Love
Julie Bruneau, (currently my Critical Theory Professor) in a comment for “The Academic Vs. The Purely Edifying”, brought up a question that I have long struggled with in English. Can you study something without destroying it? To dissect a frog, it must be dead (or will be soon after you begin). Does the same process happen when you study a book? Or a poem? Or any text, broadly defined, that you analyze?
This worries me because I love stories and uses of the English language in about equal measure; I love taking these things apart to find out how they work and why. I can’t quite figure out how to reconcile these impulses in myself, because the deeper I analyze the text, the further I get from why I liked it in the first place. Rarely does it make me dislike something that I liked before, but often I simply get sick of it, and don’t have the time or energy to revisit the whole that I liked so much to begin with.
However, as unsubstantiated and impossible to prove as this is, I think the solution is passion. Caring about what you are analyzing or the ways in which you are considering a text will change your feelings toward it. A text that I can’t help but care about may temporarily disgust me when I have its innards all over me, but invariably I come to love it again. The reason this is hard to figure out or experience, is that much of the reading we do, especially as students, is not necessarily stuff we love. We read what is assigned, and so nothing brings us back to them. And the considerations we bring to texts for class are not usually the perspectives we care most deeply about.
But these are necessary for getting better at a craft. We need to practice different critical approaches to different texts of different periods so as to understand how these things work. This may not be comfortable or fun at the time, but, it may, with patience, enrich rather than destroy what we love.
For More Pictures of sweet book art, pictured right, check out http://packergallery.com/dettmer3/index.php