Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sometimes, the curtains aren't just blue

I like reading, and I have an internet connection.  So, it was only a matter of time before someone linked me this.

Sadly, this reflects a common attitude towards the study of English literature.  That it’s “wishy-washy”, and that English literature students just lounge around in ivory towers, wearing scarves and trying to find the deeper meaning of texts where no such meaning exists.

I completely disagree with that idea, and there is plenty of evidence to back up this view

When you write, you have to describe a whole universe.  You may choose to describe a world that is similar, or nearly identical to our own, but nevertheless, you have a very limited amount of words to describe this world and put your ideas across.  So if you go out of the way to point out the colour of the curtains, it’s probably significant.

Writers could also include these devices unconsciously. 

Perhaps more importantly, maybe this isn’t the question that we should be asking ourselves.  Arguably, the whole point of studying literature isn’t to determine what an author’s intentions were. If you can find a metaphor in a piece of writing that makes you think, or see the world from a different perspective, then does it really matter whether the writer wanted it to be there or not?

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Life in Formalism

If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”

The other day I went to a lecture on Formalism, and the lecturer explained to us how, according to Formalism, literature uses literary devices to “roughen” or alter normal language and to defamiliarize ordinary situations. 
            Formalists like Victor Shklovsky contend that in our everyday lives we become so used to certain ideas or situations that we never stop to question them, or even notice them. We stop truly seeing.
            Later on, I nearly walked past my maths teacher. I just didn’t see her, because I wasn’t expecting to see her, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the people passing me on the street.  I just assumed that they were all complete strangers.
Question of the day:  Is there an unpretentious way of talking about how life imitates art?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thoughts on: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margret Atwood

*spoiler alert*

There have been a slew of dystopian novels released over the past few years, largely in the wake of successful young adult series such as the Hunger Games and Noughts and Crosses.  So I thought it would be interesting to go back and read some earlier dystopian novels.  One of the most famous of these is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margret Atwood.
This novel was a real page-turner.  The tension is palpable, and it is really well written. 
I liked the way that some of the main characters, such as Nick and Cora were really ambiguously portrayed.  I wasn’t sure whether I liked them or not, and I think that that made the story much more realistic.  In a way, it mimics the way that people in Gilead must have felt; they were could never be sure whether they liked or trusted people, because anyone could be an Eye.
What also fascinated me was the way that in some situations, various individuals tried to construe certain elements of the society as being matriarchal and freeing for women, when in fact it clearly was not.
The bit that let me down was the ending.  Like so many dystopian stories, the narrative ends on an ambiguous note.  We are uncertain as to whether she is lead to safety or too her doom.
            And then there is a historical note at the end that tells us that she does.  The historical note tries to create another, different, ambiguous ending, but frankly, it just doesn’t have the same potency.