O Captain, my Captain! A Manifest: Reading as a literature student.

Visiting Jillian’s Blog this week to disconnect from my 130 units exams this Friday (fingers crossed!) I kind of offended her because she wrongly thought that I was correcting her way of approaching a text, which I wasn’t, when responding to How do you approach a classic novel?

Now, I’ve been studying English literature for 4 years and still have one more to go along with my Masters Degree and my PhD. During all this time, although my teachers have encouraged all of us in the classroom to speak up about the text we were dealing with, they have always made one point: whatever you say must be proved with the text. For example, my Shakespeare teacher said that I could say Hamlet was a rock star as long as I could prove it. Obviously, this is not an easy task since we are asked to be coherent with the times, the style, the manners etc. Exaggerating it all (and joking): one cannot say that Jane Eyre was stupid to go away walking when he could have been driven in a taxi to wherever she wanted to go.

In this approach, our professors have shown us not only their own analysis but those of the most well-known literary authorities and I even googled their names to check their academic articles (love reading them!). Obviously, my professors won’t make you fail an exam if you don’t agree with them, but, in return, they expect from you a similar way of analysis to theirs. This past year, sitting an exam on Shakespeare, the professor (a wonderful man who we applauded last year at the end of one lesson) asked me to compare two feminine characters and, out of the blue, I thought about a thesis: Darwinism in Shakespeare’s works. And he liked it. And I was proud of myself for writing something my mates were probably not writing. It was my literary baby and it got me a A++.

My conclusion is that, thanks to my great professors and their hard work, I feel obliged to take what they give me and add something more, something of my own. But, what is my own? For me, it means more research on the times, the psychological movements and contemporary authors so that I can enrich the text and see more than one layer on it. Many will find this boring or nonsensical but it is what keeps literature in colleges: new thesis and new analysis are coming out every day thanks to wonderful professors and students who devote their life not only to reading but to investigations, further reading, analysis and many discussions. It is their pleasure but also their duty to keep literature alive, always changing and always subjected to new minds that, with the correct tools can go beyond an analysis based on their opinion and feelings. I do not care about what Stanley Wells feels about Shakespeare (as a person, I’m pretty sure he hates him for his cruel behaviour towards women and his neighbours) but he is great at analyzing his texts and that is what the academic community wants and what makes us grow. The “problem” is that this is something I do both for fun and, in a future, for money. It is my passion, I love reading and analyzing texts and I blog about it. I just feel the need to share it all, to exchange opinions and to explore other points of view which I highly value.

Now, many people criticize the institutionalization of analysis. Is it right to follow a set of rules to get your PhD published or should be allowed more “freedom”? As regards paper writing, there is only one golden rule (introduction+core+conclusion = your thesis proved) and many different rules in each publication regarding format. As for the content, one has the freedom to write their thesis using whatever original idea they have. My professor last year told us that there was a man in India who wrote his thesis on The Influence of T.S Eliot in Shakespeare. Not only did he become famous for such an original idea, but he managed to proved the universality of some themes and ideas in a way no one had dared to do before. So, ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing in literature restraining our creativity as long as we are mature enough to organize our ideas coherently so that other readers can follow our new ideas.

In a more personal tone, I will never be grateful enough to my professors for teaching me about psychoanalysis, conductism, deconstruction, literary theory, postmodernist revisions and many more points of view that had enriched me as a person and have helped me to grow up both as a reader and as a woman.

After all, this is the never-ending question of how much your education/job affects your life. I don’t see too many doctors blogging about medicine but I see many bloggers writing about what they read. There is a need in those of us who read and blog, to spread the word, to re-interpret and re-write about our books. I enjoy reading books but also articles, highlighting them and, if lucky enough, discuss them with their authors. Because, my pleasure does not only lie on reading I enjoy analysis and discussions. Were I to just enjoy reading, I would quit college and join a book club in my free time. But college and education expect more from me than that: I am supposed to be useful, to help others. In my opinion, there is a line between one’s career and one’s passions and mine has completely disappeared.

After being called (insulted) “an arrogant” for such a view, I’ve reflected on my reviews and I completely refuse to let that part of me who studies English literature passionately to give up and end up writing about my feelings. Also, I love recommending postcolonial literature to anyone who hasn’t heard about it because I think it’s a forgotten but very interesting field.

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