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Thread: Garbage that they teach you in AP classes

  1. #31
    Cur etiam hic es? Redzeppelin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThousandthIsle View Post
    I found myself resenting AP English in the same way I resent certain religions - where somebody gets their hands on a book and draws their own conclusions/interpretations without running it by the author, and then puts it in everyone else's face as a fact.
    This is a somewhat fair criticism - but, as an AP teacher, I think there are some things to consider.

    1. Good AP teachers are (or should be) aware the their interpretation of the book is only ONE potential way to interpret it; I make it clear that the way I see the book is not the definitive way the book should be interpreted, but that it is a way that logically adds up for me. They are invited to challenge my reading and demand me to defend that reading; as well, they are encouraged to come up with their own readings and defend them.

    2. We can't "run our interpretation by the author" for a number of reasons:

    a. The author's likely to be dead (at least for the books in my course).
    b. The author - if alive - wouldn't tell me if I was right anyway; most authors are notoriously evasive when it comes to interpreting their writing, and some (like Faulkner) would simply tell you a lie as a red herring.
    "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." - C.S. Lewis

  2. #32
    veni vidi vixi Bakiryu's Avatar
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    My English class just began a week ago but it's really, really boring. We haven't begun reading anything but my teacher just quoted a reading list and it's supposed to be classics. The only thing I've done there is stare out of the window while writing poetry. figures.
    Shall these bones live?

  3. #33
    Rather Bewildered brainstrain's Avatar
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    Well, in that particular book, your teacher is probably right.

    But it's true that often books are disected so far that we see not what the author wrote, but what we expect to see. It's silly, really.

    My Dad is a teacher, and one of his friends once met with the author of a book she teaches in her class. She asked about some important underlying symbol in the novel, and the author said 'What?'. After the teacher explained what she had been teaching most of her life, the author said 'Well, I didn't put those things there on purpose, but it certainly makes sense.'

    Often the best authors do these thing subconciously - if it's so subtle that you think it probably doesn't mean anything, but your teacher says it does, humor them. You might learn something.

    By the way - my Dad is an IB History teacher, and his friend was my English II-Honors teacher.

    Just ignore my signature, it's being funky tonight...
    Last edited by brainstrain; 08-25-2007 at 10:30 PM.
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  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    Why, exactly, do you imagine symbols to be mostly BS? Should all art be reduced to a variant of Frank Stella's dictum, "What you see is what you see"? Should we imagine that every work of fiction and every poem is "about" nothing more than the literal narrative? Personally, I find a great part of the poetry in a work of literature lies in the various symbolic interpretations that go beyond the literal.
    First of all, sorry that I took so long to post (haven't had time to get on)... Anyways, I'm not saying all symbols are BS, just the horrible ones that AP and IB teachers put into the work . Most kids get through IB with good "BS skills", and those "skills" are incredibly useful in english. I mean, we had to read Equus in theatre, and my theatre teacher went on and on about how the main character was gay, but because his dad was so strict, he couldn't be, and so his motivation was that he wanted to be gay... And that the horse was symbolizing a man or something. I told him that was horribly wrong and... wrong, but I couldn't think of a different motivation for him, so he was convinced he was right (of course my gay teacher would come up with this). And finally, there are some works that have no symbols, they are just stories for stories sake.

  5. #35
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    If an authors got something to say, why don't they just say it? Why bury it away in subtle allusions and symbols that may or may not be there? If what the author has to say is important enough to the author, I would hope they would put it right out in front for ALL to see. It would seem that if the idea is important enough, the author would make an effort to make it show through without question.

  6. #36
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    The answer lies in something rather simple and obvious - those dull and boring Formal Logic and Philosophy lessons from your average high school (yeah, those during which you used to read incognito, or play pocket chess with your mate, or just stare through the window on the outside sunny day instead of paying attention when the basics of semiotics were introduced ).
    As much as you could apply those concepts to philosophy or linguistics - you can also apply them to art.

    Without going into the sign/symbol/etc differentiation, let me remind you of one very important point: nothing is a symbol until interpreted as such. In fact, the need for interpretation of something as a symbol, in order for it to have a nature of a symbol, was the part of definition if I recall correctly.

    Technically, everything around you are symbols. The words you are reading now are symbols. Even moreso, the language itself you are speaking is composed out of symbols. (Remember your native language classes from school... what was that definition of a language? ... a set of symbols..., rings a bell? ) The words of a language stand for something else, their acoustic "value" of a sound, or visual "value" of a written word, are not itself a concept you create in your mind when you see/hear a specific word, it represents something else (by similarity or not - if we get into this we will get into symbol/sign differentiation, etc, which I consider to be fairly pointless for this purpose), ergo, it is a symbol. But, until you interpret it, it is purely - nothing. A scratch on a paper. A sound. And nothing more. It takes your interpretation of it to make it a symbol, and to give to it certain value.

    Symbols are typical for human beings. In fact, symbol is a "unit" of what you would call "culture" (remember that typical high school division of reality - organic with cell as unit, anorganic with atom as unit, and suborganic - i.e. culture - with sign as a unit?), the whole culture itself, produced by mankind, is based on symbols and interpretation of symbols - starting with language, that very first "symbolic" property of a man.

    Alas, I digress. My point being: having in mind the typical school definition of a symbol, and recognising the reality around you being formed also out of symbols, just "raise" the whole issue one level higher - and apply it to art.

    Then you will see why it is perfectly possible of both sides of the argument being right. The question is not what is a symbol in literary piece (impossible to say), but, rather, what do I interpret as a symbol (and, in cases of high school Literature classes, what have dozens of critics before your professor interpreted as a symbol). Another person's reality can never be your reality, all is subjective, all is a subject of interpretation - especially Literature.
    Last edited by aabbcc; 08-26-2007 at 01:02 PM. Reason: Misspelled words. Hell, English isn't my native language ;)

  7. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by Redzeppelin View Post
    This is a somewhat fair criticism - but, as an AP teacher, I think there are some things to consider.

    You are right, Red, and I did not mean to come off as so unappreciative towards teachers. I should have clarified my resentment towards AP English better, so I will do it now! My teacher was in the middle of a divorce the year I had AP English. To make it worse, the man she was divorcing was another English teacher whose classroom was right next to hers, and all day, all year, we could hear his voice echoing through the walls. I'm sure that didn't help her keep her focus on her class.

    A lot of the material we were presented felt very fragmented to all of us. I should have been more specific in saying that it was this particular class, not the AP English program as a whole. I enjoy looking deeper into literature, and even considering possible interpretations to texts. However, there was so much given to us with such wishy-washy reasoning... I remember being very irritated throughout the year as our teacher made these claims - not presenting them as a possiblity so much as - "Here's what so-and-so was symbolising," and then never really elaborating beyond that so her students could learn how she came upon that conclusion. She also should have treated symbolism more subjectively. She presented it very cut and dry, and for a long time, I was very intimidated by literature, because I was afraid I would not catch all of the "hidden meanings."

    I was a nervous wreck before the AP exams (she always gave me 2s on our practice exams in class), and I was very doubtful that my own mind could carry me through the exams - wondering if I would be able to manage to interpret everything correctly. I passed both lit exams with 4s each, and more than granting me college credits, those scores assured me that everyone has a right to enjoy literature, and to draw their own meanings from it.
    Last edited by ThousandthIsle; 08-27-2007 at 03:35 PM.

  8. #38
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    If an authors got something to say, why don't they just say it? Why bury it away in subtle allusions and symbols that may or may not be there? If what the author has to say is important enough to the author, I would hope they would put it right out in front for ALL to see. It would seem that if the idea is important enough, the author would make an effort to make it show through without question.

    Then why should an author or any artist even waste the time with the art? If Beethoven wanted to convey nothing more than that he felt melancholy sometimes why not simply say so and forget all the effort in composing a sonata or symphony that might not clearly be understood by all. If Dickens wanted to say something along the line of "poverty sucks" why waste all that time and effort inventing characters and narratives that were completely superfluous? He could have simply said "Poverty sucks," and we'd all nod our heads in agreement and been done with it. And what the hell were all those painters thinking? All those images and colors and textures. Just say what you've got to say and be done with it. And poets! My God, those poets! They're the worst. Rhyme and form and rhythm and all that time seeking for the "perfect word"... the "perfect metaphor". What a waste of time. Surely Shakespeare could have saved himself a good deal of time and paper and ink and replaced half of his sonnets with a simple phrase that was clear and to the point... perhaps something like "When I think of you, I feel blue". Heck, it even rhymes.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  9. #39
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    there are some works that have no symbols, they are just stories for stories sake.

    Yes... there are some stories that are just stories and there are some paintings that are just images... or at least they may begin as such for the artist. As a visual artist I can tell you that a work of art may begin with nothing more than an intention to capture a certain image or mood or atmosphere that caught the artist's eye. You would do well to remember, however, that most artists in any field (literature, music, visual art) are very well educated within their field. Most of the strongest poets have read a great deal of poetry. Most painters have looked a great deal at other's paintings. As a work of art develops these various influences often come into play. Sometimes it is consciously... perhaps an intentional reference to another artist or even a rejection of his or her work. In other instances it may be subconsciously. As an artist's body of work grows the influences and the levels of "meaning" often grow increasingly complex. This does not mean that you cannot appreciate such a work of art without grasping all these levels of meaning, allusions and relationships. This can only happen as the audience/reader/viewer/listener becomes more experienced. Someone listening to Beethoven's 5th Symphony with little or no experience of classical music can certainly appreciate the work for its drama and its powerful and beautiful tunes. Someone with a good deal of experience with classical music may also appreciate the manner in which Beethoven built upon and greatly expanded the traditional classical forms and might also recognize how his work acts as a precursor for later composers. Art is continually engaged in a dialog. Every truly strong work of art enters into the dialog not merely with the audience but also with other artists. A truly strong new work of art will often impact how we see older works as well as influence future works. By the same token the great work of art will speak to the audience of the present as well as the future. As J.L Borges noted in one of his wonderful essays the Shakespeare or the Don Quixote that were read in the 1600s were not the same works that were read by the Victorians nor the same works as we read today. By the same token, the Shakespeare that you read at 16 will certainly not be the same Shakespeare you read at 35 or 70. The role of the teacher or the critic with regard to literature is in part to lead the reader to perhaps become aware of some of these other levels of meaning or interpretation that exist in the work of art. Certainly you may disagree with a teacher's or a critic's interpretations... indeed I would encourage anyone to be ever skeptical and open to thinking for themselves. However, if you are to challenge this teacher or critic's interpretations you must be aware that you must be able to back up your arguments. You think your teacher was wrong in a specific instance about a specific work... why do you think he was wrong? Have you read what other critics have said? Have you read more by this author? Have you read enough of other key works of literature so that you can recognize this author's predecessors and successors? Learning to regurgitate what was taught to you... to BS about what you imagine the teacher wants to hear is certainly a skill that will get you through most high-school and college literature courses. Learning to think for your self... and developing the skills and knowledge base needed to back up your thoughts is infinitely more difficult... and I would suggest, infinitely more rewarding.
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    Then why should an author or any artist even waste the time with the art? If Beethoven wanted to convey nothing more than that he felt melancholy sometimes why not simply say so and forget all the effort in composing a sonata or symphony that might not clearly be understood by all. If Dickens wanted to say something along the line of "poverty sucks" why waste all that time and effort inventing characters and narratives that were completely superfluous? He could have simply said "Poverty sucks," and we'd all nod our heads in agreement and been done with it. And what the hell were all those painters thinking? All those images and colors and textures. Just say what you've got to say and be done with it. And poets! My God, those poets! They're the worst. Rhyme and form and rhythm and all that time seeking for the "perfect word"... the "perfect metaphor". What a waste of time. Surely Shakespeare could have saved himself a good deal of time and paper and ink and replaced half of his sonnets with a simple phrase that was clear and to the point... perhaps something like "When I think of you, I feel blue". Heck, it even rhymes.
    I assumed that my post would be misunderstood. I never said "say it simply" or in 2 words. I said make it more obvious. Otherwise, isn't the author just writing for him or herself? And if that's the case, that none of that other stuff is meant for the general reader, then what becomes the point of reading these more challenging and supposedly "deeper" works. Many people read to challenge their own ideas, to "broaden their mind", and so on. But if the only books with these high-brow ideas are the ones that are impenetrable to people without PhD's in literature what becomes the point? We might as well just read John Grisham, because the average person can't decipher the subtle allusions and symbols in these other works.

    Again, I'm also not talking about the obvious, like Dicken's thoughts on poverty or Shakespeare on love. I'm talking about more subtly suggested ideas like those found in Joyce, Pynchon, Gaddis, Nabokov, Barth and all the other highly allusive and symbolic writers whose underlying ideas are buried deeply in their works and cannot be found unless you have an extensive background in the topics that support their work.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    I assumed that my post would be misunderstood. I never said "say it simply" or in 2 words. I said make it more obvious. Otherwise, isn't the author just writing for him or herself?

    Again I might use an analogy to other art forms. What is the "obvious" meaning of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet or Bach's Well tempered Clavier? Is there an obvious meaning to one of Rembrandt's self-portraits? I can clearly tell what the painting represents but what does it "mean"? In other words... is the point of art nothing more than an expression of an obvious "meaning"? And if the artist is not conveying an obvious meaning does that mean the work has no value or worth except to the artist?

    And if that's the case, that none of that other stuff is meant for the general reader, then what becomes the point of reading these more challenging and supposedly "deeper" works. Many people read to challenge their own ideas, to "broaden their mind", and so on. But if the only books with these high-brow ideas are the ones that are impenetrable to people without PhD's in literature what becomes the point?

    Modern artists have especially struggled with this dilemma. Is art to be created for the masses? Should everything be dumbed down to the level of Harry Potter or network television so that the broadest possible audience may experience and enjoy the work? Or does the audience have a responsibility as well as the artist/author? The reality is that the greatest literature and music has always had a limited audience. The cognitive challenges and demands it places upon the reader/audience are beyond the ability of most. The average reader certainly will find Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, Pynchon, Barth, etc... dense... difficult... perhaps incomprehensible... but then again the average reader past or present would find Milton, Dickinson, Blake, Dante, Plato, Hölderlin, Mallarme, Keats, Donne, Homer, Virgil, or Shakespeare no less daunting. This may sound elitist... but it is an elitism that is something of an elective affinity. It is not an elitism of wealth or position or even of formal education of degree. Shakespeare's poetry, Wagner's operas, Picasso's paintings all present the audience with definite challenges. The audience willing to put forth the effort will be certainly rewarded. For some readers the difficult challenge is worth the effort... and there is a certain pleasure to be earned from overcoming the challenge. For others, not. So the question, again, is to whom is the artist responsible? Does he or she owe it to society to make every attempt to reach the broadest audience possible... even at the expense of dumbing down the work? Or do individuals owe it to themselves... and to society to make every effort to broaden their own abilities? Or do artists only owe it only to be honest to themselves... and hope that their art finds its appropriate audience? These questions have plagued artists for millenia and have been explored by writers such as Plato, Tolstoy, Wilde, Woolf, Hesse, Mann, etc...

    We might as well just read John Grisham, because the average person can't decipher the subtle allusions and symbols in these other works.

    Again, this is certainly one option. If all I demand of literature is that it be easily understood... transparent or obvious in what it conveys... then such a choice may be appropriate. On the other hand, I might feel that the efforts demanded by challenging works of art will be rewarded with a sort of pleasure not afforded by the easy. The choice is yours.

    Again, I'm also not talking about the obvious, like Dicken's thoughts on poverty or Shakespeare on love. I'm talking about more subtly suggested ideas like those found in Joyce, Pynchon, Gaddis, Nabokov, Barth and all the other highly allusive and symbolic writers whose underlying ideas are buried deeply in their works and cannot be found unless you have an extensive background in the topics that support their work.

    But is Dickens really obvious? Is his art so transparent that the average reader can immediately grasp every level of meaning he conveys? And Shakespeare...??? Are Shakespeare's sonnets truly far more obvious in meaning and less demanding upon the reader than Joyce or Pynchon or Nabokov? How many average readers can easily fathom a sonnet such as this:

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
    Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come:
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


    Or thus:

    O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
    By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
    The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
    For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
    The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
    As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
    Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
    When summer's breath their masked buds discloses:
    But, for their virtue only is their show,
    They live unwoo'd and unrespected fade,
    Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
    Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
    And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
    When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.


    And even a rather "easy/obvious" poem such as the following I would presume would present some real challenges to the average reader... and how much more it might be appreciated by the reader who has taken the time to read other earlier sonnets by Petrarch or Ronsard and can recognize some of the formal/structural innovations as well as the manner in which earlier conciets about the beauty of the beloved have been turned upon their head:

    My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
    I grant I never saw a goddess go,
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.


    While Joyce certainly presents some real difficulties I doubt that with the exception of Finnegan's Wake his work is more challenging than Dante, Plato, Lawrence Sterne, Blake, or many other older writers. It surely challenges the reader's assumptions and expectations... but a good deal of the strongest art has always done as much... but it is not impossible for the reader with some experience willing to put forth the effort. Is it worth it? Again, the choice is yours. I greatly enjoyed parts of Ulysses but prefer Faulkner and Proust.
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  12. #42
    Professional Crastinator Hyacinth42's Avatar
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    You would do well to remember, however, that most artists in any field (literature, music, visual art) are very well educated within their field. Most of the strongest poets have read a great deal of poetry. Most painters have looked a great deal at other's paintings. As a work of art develops these various influences often come into play. Sometimes it is consciously... perhaps an intentional reference to another artist or even a rejection of his or her work. In other instances it may be subconsciously. As an artist's body of work grows the influences and the levels of "meaning" often grow increasingly complex.
    While I agree on you with this, I still say that it doesn't apply to all stories.For example, I personally believe that the people who try to put symbolism into Lord of the Rings are insane... I mean honestly, there are no "levels of meaning" in Lord of the Rings, they're just stories meant for entertaintment... Although, there are some things that should have a deeper meaning (otherwise they'd be totally pointless) and the meaning doesn't seem to be there, and so any meaning put there seems incorrect... Like, this one poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams... We had to learn it a few years back, and it had no point (which was really annoying) and we were expected to "analyze" it...


    Learning to regurgitate what was taught to you... to BS about what you imagine the teacher wants to hear is certainly a skill that will get you through most high-school and college literature courses. Learning to think for your self... and developing the skills and knowledge base needed to back up your thoughts is infinitely more difficult... and I would suggest, infinitely more rewarding.
    Well, it's not really regurgitation of BS, its the act of finding multiple symbols in a story that doesn't have that many... So, you make up things that fit, but you don't really believe. It's not that you're not thinking, you're just coming up with interpretations that you don't necessarily think are correct, but can pass as plausible interpretations, and are therefore are BS .

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    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    I assumed that my post would be misunderstood. I never said "say it simply" or in 2 words. I said make it more obvious. Otherwise, isn't the author just writing for him or herself?

    Again I might use an analogy to other art forms. What is the "obvious" meaning of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet or Bach's Well tempered Clavier? Is there an obvious meaning to one of Rembrandt's self-portraits? I can clearly tell what the painting represents but what does it "mean"? In other words... is the point of art nothing more than an expression of an obvious "meaning"? And if the artist is not conveying an obvious meaning does that mean the work has no value or worth except to the artist?

    And if that's the case, that none of that other stuff is meant for the general reader, then what becomes the point of reading these more challenging and supposedly "deeper" works. Many people read to challenge their own ideas, to "broaden their mind", and so on. But if the only books with these high-brow ideas are the ones that are impenetrable to people without PhD's in literature what becomes the point?

    Modern artists have especially struggled with this dilemma. Is art to be created for the masses? Should everything be dumbed down to the level of Harry Potter or network television so that the broadest possible audience may experience and enjoy the work? Or does the audience have a responsibility as well as the artist/author? The reality is that the greatest literature and music has always had a limited audience. The cognitive challenges and demands it places upon the reader/audience are beyond the ability of most. The average reader certainly will find Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, Pynchon, Barth, etc... dense... difficult... perhaps incomprehensible... but then again the average reader past or present would find Milton, Dickinson, Blake, Dante, Plato, Hölderlin, Mallarme, Keats, Donne, Homer, Virgil, or Shakespeare no less daunting. This may sound elitist... but it is an elitism that is something of an elective affinity. It is not an elitism of wealth or position or even of formal education of degree. Shakespeare's poetry, Wagner's operas, Picasso's paintings all present the audience with definite challenges. The audience willing to put forth the effort will be certainly rewarded. For some readers the difficult challenge is worth the effort... and there is a certain pleasure to be earned from overcoming the challenge. For others, not. So the question, again, is to whom is the artist responsible? Does he or she owe it to society to make every attempt to reach the broadest audience possible... even at the expense of dumbing down the work? Or do individuals owe it to themselves... and to society to make every effort to broaden their own abilities? Or do artists only owe it only to be honest to themselves... and hope that their art finds its appropriate audience? These questions have plagued artists for millenia and have been explored by writers such as Plato, Tolstoy, Wilde, Woolf, Hesse, Mann, etc...

    We might as well just read John Grisham, because the average person can't decipher the subtle allusions and symbols in these other works.

    Again, this is certainly one option. If all I demand of literature is that it be easily understood... transparent or obvious in what it conveys... then such a choice may be appropriate. On the other hand, I might feel that the efforts demanded by challenging works of art will be rewarded with a sort of pleasure not afforded by the easy. The choice is yours.

    Again, I'm also not talking about the obvious, like Dicken's thoughts on poverty or Shakespeare on love. I'm talking about more subtly suggested ideas like those found in Joyce, Pynchon, Gaddis, Nabokov, Barth and all the other highly allusive and symbolic writers whose underlying ideas are buried deeply in their works and cannot be found unless you have an extensive background in the topics that support their work.

    But is Dickens really obvious? Is his art so transparent that the average reader can immediately grasp every level of meaning he conveys? And Shakespeare...??? Are Shakespeare's sonnets truly far more obvious in meaning and less demanding upon the reader than Joyce or Pynchon or Nabokov? How many average readers can easily fathom a sonnet such as this:

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
    Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come:
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


    Or thus:

    O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
    By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
    The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
    For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
    The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
    As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
    Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
    When summer's breath their masked buds discloses:
    But, for their virtue only is their show,
    They live unwoo'd and unrespected fade,
    Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
    Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
    And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
    When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.


    And even a rather "easy/obvious" poem such as the following I would presume would present some real challenges to the average reader... and how much more it might be appreciated by the reader who has taken the time to read other earlier sonnets by Petrarch or Ronsard and can recognize some of the formal/structural innovations as well as the manner in which earlier conciets about the beauty of the beloved have been turned upon their head:

    My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
    I grant I never saw a goddess go,
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.


    While Joyce certainly presents some real difficulties I doubt that with the exception of Finnegan's Wake his work is more challenging than Dante, Plato, Lawrence Sterne, Blake, or many other older writers. It surely challenges the reader's assumptions and expectations... but a good deal of the strongest art has always done as much... but it is not impossible for the reader with some experience willing to put forth the effort. Is it worth it? Again, the choice is yours. I greatly enjoyed parts of Ulysses but prefer Faulkner and Proust.

    Thank you so much for such a thoughtful reply. These have always been questions I have pondered and being a non-English major (perhaps the antithesis, science) I have never really had the chance to pose such questions to someone with any background in these areas. I have always read and enjoyed books of all kinds, but I never really thought about them in the ways you presented here. I never thought it could be a choice as to how one reads. That authors are writing for the reasons they have and that all books aren't created for all people. I really appreciated your comment of a chosen/self-imposed elitism, an interesting thought. All of my high school English teachers would complain that the only "good" authors were the "challenging" ones and that the rest is garbage and that you are pathetic if that's what you choose to read (ie Grisham, King, etc). They would of course always include that you are stupid if you don't get the "challenging" books as well. So, thanks for a different point of view!

  14. #44
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    So, you make up things that fit, but you don't really believe. It's not that you're not thinking, you're just coming up with interpretations that you don't necessarily think are correct, but can pass as plausible interpretations, and are therefore are BS .
    That's hilarious, I always thought it was just me!! :0

  15. #45
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    While I agree on you with this, I still say that it doesn't apply to all stories.For example, I personally believe that the people who try to put symbolism into Lord of the Rings are insane... I mean honestly, there are no "levels of meaning" in Lord of the Rings, they're just stories meant for entertaintment... Although, there are some things that should have a deeper meaning (otherwise they'd be totally pointless) and the meaning doesn't seem to be there, and so any meaning put there seems incorrect... Like, this one poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams... We had to learn it a few years back, and it had no point (which was really annoying) and we were expected to "analyze" it...

    Again, I agree with the notion that not all books, stories, poems, or works of art have multiple levels of "meaning". There are times, for example, in a painting that it is nothing more than "what you see is what you see" as the painter Frank Stella so famously put it. Sometimes a painting of a knife and a loaf of bread is nothing more than a rendering of what the artist saw. At other times it is definitely intended as a reference to the Eucharist or to paintings by earlier artists. The same certainly holds true of literature. I'm not certain I'd agree with you with regard to the Lord of the Rings... although I'm no expert here... it's been many years since I read it. Nevertheless, I believe it would be foolish to underrate the intentions of the author in this case. Tolkein was a well-respected professor of English literature and languages. He was fascinated with myths and fairy tales and read a great deal of such works by authors such as William Morris and other Pre-Raphaelites and Lewis Carroll who influenced his belief in the value of the fairie-tale/fantasy/myth genre. From the Pre-Rapaelites (and William Blake) he developed a deep distrust or dislike of modern mechanized/industrialized society... something which impacted the ancient, pre-Modern bucolic settings of his works. He admitted to being influenced greatly by Scottish, Celtic, English, German and Scandinavian legends... especially works such as the Kalevala, the so-called "Poetic Edda" , the Volsunga Saga as well as Homer, Sophocles and Shakespeare. Most important was Beowulf. Tolkein was a true scholar of this Anglo-Saxon epic which he translated into contemporary English. While many scholars undervalued the work because of the fantasy nature of the battle scenes Tolkien argued that the author of Beowulf was addressing human destiny in general, not as limited by particular tribal politics, and therefore the monsters were essential to the poem and symbolic of larger issues of faith, destiny, good and evil. He would incorporate these concepts in an equally symbolic manner into his own writings. Beyond Tolkein's literary sources, he also built much into his writings relating to his deep Catholic beliefs: concepts of clearly delineated entities of good and evil, destiny, etc... Interestingly enough, one of his greatest plot twists was based upon a key element in Shakespeare's MacBeth... a work of which Tolkein was somewhat critical (as many artists are of the very artists that the fear have too great of an impact upon their own art). All of this suggests to me that Tolkein intended something far more than a mere bit of entertainment.

    As for William Carlos William's The Red Wheelbarrow:

    so much depends
    upon

    a red wheel
    barrow

    glazed with rain
    water

    beside the white
    chickens.


    I agree that on the surface the poem does not seem to say a lot. Much of the "meaning" of the poem, however, is dependent upon the reader's awareness of what the author intended. The poem is an example of an "imagist" poem... a poem that essentially paints a picture of a thing rather than conveying an idea or narrative. In other words, if we were to look for an analogy in painting for most poetry it would be found among the great narrative paintings... or portraits. The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, etc... convey grand narratives. For the Romantics it is the thoughts or the feelings of the poet that often becomes the narrative. With the imagist poem see the poem as a still life... a presentation of an image. Other strong examples would include early Ezra Pound, Rilke's Book of Images, even some of Rossetti's poems that focus upon "things". William Carlos Williams creates a great "image" that clearly relates to both his strong love of American culture and Asian zen thought. One might compare William's poem to some examples of Japanese poetry
    (translated here by Kenneth Rexroth from One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese)

    On Asuka River
    Maple leaves are floating.
    On Mount Katsuragi,
    High upstream, they are
    Already falling from the trees.


    -Anonymous from Manyóshú

    The snow falls and falls.
    The mountains and meadows sleep.
    Only an old mill
    Stays awake.


    -Ókura Ichijitsu

    Like William's poem the Japanese Zen poems do not convey an abstract idea, the feeling of the poet, or a narrative. They merely paint an image... beautifully concise and with a beautiful language. But Williams is also an American and very concerned that he avoid anything that smacks of the refinement of older cultures. Wallace Stevens in his Anecdote of the Jar makes a similar use of colloquial American imagery and language:

    I placed a jar in Tennessee,
    And round it was, upon a hill.
    It made the slovenly wilderness
    Surround that hill.

    The wilderness rose up to it,
    And sprawled around, no longer wild.
    The jar was round upon the ground
    And tall and of a port in air.

    It took dominion every where.
    The jar was gray and bare.
    It did not give of bird or bush,
    Like nothing else in Tennessee.


    In part Stevens jar acts as a counterpart to Keat's Grecian Urn (Ode to a Grecian Urn). Where the European, Keats presents the triumph of art over nature/time in the form of a beautifully artful, ornate carved urn that has survived the centuries and which is described with a beautifully elegant Shakespearean language or vocabulary, Stevens, the American, has but a plain jar in Tennessee which is surrounded by nature triumphant. William's poem works in a similar manner presenting a very American image and insisting upon its importance ("So much depends upon..."). Of course in rural America so dependent upon agriculture so much DOES depend upon the wheelbarrow... the farmer's tools. But Stevens is also insisting upon the aesthetic importance of the image. Just as a painter who paints a pair of homely shoes (like Van Gogh) or the simple harvest of some few apples (like Cezanne) Williams insist upon the aesthetic worth of the image/object he is concentration upon for the very reason that it has caught his attention. Cezanne and Van Gogh lend a certain nobility to their lowly subject matter through the beatiful manner it which they are rendered. Williams suggests the same choosing the wonderfully suggestive word: "glazed". An old master painting uses the technique known as "glazing"... is "glazed. A precious enamel is glazed. William's red wheelbarrow is not merely wet or rained on... but is "glazed" with rain water lending it the air of something far more suggestive than what it initially seems. Again, you may assume that such interpretations are the flights of fancy of the critic but I would suggest that a great part of the "meaning" in all art is in part brought to the work by the viewer/reader/listener. I would guess that a Japanese reader familiar with the simple imagist Zen poetry of Japan and China would not find Williams' poem at all unfamiliar in manner. On the other hand, the reader familiar only with the more traditional narrative manner of poetry might certainly find Williams as well as early Rilke or Ezra Pound, etc... to be meaningless. I would contend, however, that your teachers (in most cases) are probably not fools making the whole thing up themselves. The more one has read, seen, listened to... the more connections and possible interpretations one will discover in any strong work of art. In no way should you imagine that these were all consciously intended by the artist... but in many cases the artist is the worst critic of his or her own work.
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 08-28-2007 at 09:59 PM.
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