Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning to Hate Novels

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Wall Street Journal book reviewer Joseph Epstein in a recent article, "What Killed American Lit." absolutely scours the editors and authors of recently-published The Cambridge History of the American Novel.

Most notably, Epstein says that those who composed and compiled this 1,244-page book abuse the English language itself by such confusing and trendy language that no one can understand them:

". . .through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme—of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite. A novelist, we are told, "tasks himself" with this or that; things tend to get "problematized"; the adjectives "global" and "post"-this-or-that receive a good workout; "alterity" and "intertexuality" pop up their homely heads; the "poetics of ineffability" come into play; and "agency" is used in ways one hadn't hitherto noticed, so that "readers in groups demonstrate agency." About the term "non-heteronormativity" let us not speak.These dopey words and others like them are inserted into stiffly mechanical sentences of dubious meaning.

The book itself, says Epstein, is a symbol of all the reasons why people who started out loving novels had all such love drummed out of them by narcissistic and cliquish teachers.

Tell me, what book did you once love, then grow to hate, because of a teacher?

Or, what novel did you once hate when studying it in school, then rediscovered it later and now love it?


Dina Sleiman said...

I almost gave up on writing and literature completely because of a crazy high school English teacher I had in 11th and 12th grade. She always said my interpretations were "wrong" and that my writing was weak.

Thank God I got a 5 out of possible 5 on my English AP exam (teacher had been giving me 2s on my practice exams, which nearly led to a breakdown.) After that I figured she had no idea what she was talking about and there still was hope for me. But it took me two years to get up the courage to start enrolling in college English courses and declared English as my major.

Of course, she was crazy enough that she'd probably take credit for the fact that I'm a published writer today because she made me fight for it. LOL.

Patti Hill said...

I suffered through a semester of Shakespeare with a professor who wore the most hideous green sweater ever. Sends shivers down my spine to think of it again. Eew. His personality matched his sweater. His great crime? He over analyzed the plays, forgetting completely that Will always meant to entertain. I pictured Will sitting in the back of the room, shaking his head in dismay. Must read The Merchant of Venice soon.

Anonymous said...

My brain is numb from reading that excerpt. Those words. Oh...blech.

I have been blessed to have had 4 phenomenal English and Literature teachers/professors. Each nurtured my desires for more and more to read. And each prodded me to keep writing. They saw potential in me when I did not. Especially my college professor. He is my mentor.

Anonymous said...

I can't point to a specific book, but I do know that when I was shoved into the gifted and talented program in middle school and forced to read a bunch of classics, I immediately pushed back.

To this day I can't stand to read Shakespeare. HOWEVER, I have begun, slowly, to read various other classic pieces of literature as time permits (which isn't often). Because now no one is telling me what to read. I can choose it myself. That makes all the difference.

BK Jackson

Latayne C Scott said...

Does anyone see a parallel here? Can we compare English teachers who killed all joy we might derive from a work of literature -- to people who made faith so hard and complicated that some people feel they must endure religion to be saved?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Latayne! Absolutely. I was just discussing (on Facebook) how much freedom my Literature teachers gave me. Of course, there were certain required reads. But they gave me room to explore the literature and to pick what I wanted to read.

And, as you said, it's the same with my life of following Jesus. The pastors, elders, Bible college instructors that let me wonder about the Bible and experience it...well, they helped me to grow and be more in love with Jesus.

Very good point, Latayne.

Kathleen Popa said...

Latayne, you remind me of Patti's post of August 17, which haunts me still: We so easily forget that writing (and faith) are supposed to be joyful. It reminds me of a dance performance I saw years ago, when I was so caught up in the joy of the performers, I think my heartbeat synchronized to theirs. It taught me much about the dynamic of art, that art is about feeling, and the the artist transmits that feeling, however much or little, out of his own soul.

Latayne C Scott said...

Synchronized heartbeats. Hey, Katy, that's how I feel about you NM ladies. We rejoice with each other, cry with each other.

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Might I flip the coin over? The only reason I write today is because my high school English teacher pulled me aside in the hallway and asked me to take her Creative Writing class the following year. I did. And two months in she abandoned her lesson plan and sent me into the computer lab to write short stories. All it took was one person saying, "You can do this."