Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why Read?

I'll say this: I do wish more of my peers and instructors were more than less in line with Edmundson's general hope (literary study as a conduit for self-exploration and the hopeful self-betterment as a result) BUT if this text is an accurate window into the typical Mark Edmundson classroom, I would run, "like", quickly. (See - it's hard to contain my generationally specific gnat-like attention span even in a blog post. Damn you, Macintosh!)

Upon the completion of far too many papers I find myself criticizing the inconsequential nature of the draft; its redundant analysis of redundant themes, its nearly total dispensable street value. I really do hate feeling that I've just devoted a significant amount of time to nothing more than a rhetorical exercise or, worse, a catering of style and opinion in conformance to that of the whomever is to dispense the grade. Of course - this is sometimes partly my fault for not stretching my entire intellectual threshold during each writing assignment, but I would argue that what is more to blame is the lackluster groove that, not all but some, English Lit professors and/or TA's have fallen into and the flaccid prompts that occur as a result. ("In 3-5 pages please locate, analyze and fully explain why Gregor Samsa can be rightfully labelled a Kafkaesque character. Validate this with cited examples from the primary text.")

So in that sense I can get behind Edmundson's claim that literary study has become impotent and sometimes trivial. However where Mark and I differ - why I would "like" run from a class of his - derives from the hierarchy of art he erects in the text, placing literature firmly above all other fields of artistic expression. Actually, to Edmundson, it really isn't even a hierarchy; it seems to him that while literature carries the weight of every human soul on its broad shoulders, the other modes of artistic catharsis (dance, visual art, music, etc.) whimper and compliantly bow. This is allegedly because the written word comes the closest to answering the impossible question of "What is life?". Edmundson claims that because "for most of us the prevailing medium, moment to moment, is verbal" this means the only way to consequentially absorb, say for instance, Ravel's String Quartet in F Major or a wall-sized Rothko, is to take that non-verbal experience and whittle it down into words. Here, he says it himself on page 112: "Thus a critical part of making the non-verbal arts into the stuff of human expansion is verbal description".

This is very crappy. No one medium is going to universally address the question of "What is life?". In dealing with a question of such weight, it comes down to a subjective preference. Whatever it is that stimulates your dermis's follicles to become attentive and erect (otherwise popularly known as 'goosebumps') is, to me, the closest thing to affecting ones fundamental human level - ones "innermost circle" - be it Proust or be it Coltrane.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you. I can back you on Edmundson's claim that study has become impotent and sometimes trivial. I also agree that there isn't one medium that can handle the "what is life?" question.

    Architecture and hieroglyphics where an ancient way of finding answers. Egyptians found a way to build to a non-Christian heaven. Rather than studying humanities, science can possibly give us the answer to "what is life? even though many may not like the answer. It's over my head but there are some who can find the answer in math. Theoretical or experimental physics come to mind. Genetic code could provide an a better answer to some where others would need humanities to make an interpretation for understanding.

    I don't believe the pressure to challenge students should solely be placed on higher education. Many of us in generation x and y can't spell (spell check does so) or use proper grammar (due to slang and dialect) in higher education. We don't begin these habits when we hit 18 or 19 years of age. More so, our college experience may lack because of the increase of students to professor. This could be one of the primary reasons of the lackluster groove. Many professors just can't connect with a decent percentage of their students due to classroom size. Many may not even recognize a student should they pass in public. Who is to blame?

    I agree that college appears to be a consumerist organization but when was this change made? Sure, modern media shows instances of college education challenging our students but has this occurred to the majority? How many other peers received the same education that Edmundson did? Were not many of these students attending and paying for a heavy stock piece of paper or to please their parents or to open a few doors to larger houses? I'll digress but Scientology comes to mind. Pay the big bucks, think hard and find enlightenment.

    Maybe it's change that truly frightens Edmundson. I wonder if he voted for Obama.