In reading critically through pieces of great literature, the fact that has become abundantly clear to me is that I genuinely, without a doubt, quite dislike most of what humanity has and still dubs as 'great literature'. Not on the basis of it being bad writing (though it sometimes is,) or because it is boring (though it sometimes is,) or because it is extremely anal (though it usually is,) but because we as a society have moved towards a culture of analyzing - or at least attempting to analyze - anything that we deem worthy of enjoying. That is why there are classes such as ENGL 3203 (Literary Theory and Modern Critical Reading Strategy) and ENGL 3500 (Social and Political Constructs of Literature). Sometimes I wonder if there really IS anything further to what we read. Are there actually literary theories to read and criticize strategically? Are there actually social and political constructs in this poem or that prose?
In Canadian Literature last year, we were going through "Stones", a short story by Timothy Findley. Class discussion centralized around the debate as to whether or not Findley was gay. How did we get there? Through the ideas of Kevin Gildea (GREAT prof, by the way,) who proposed that the story, which narrated the life of a boy whose father came back from the war as a shell-shocked veteran, was in fact a portrayal of Findley's own emasculation at the hands of his father. Professor Gildea had a theory that the social construct of masculinity was defined by "Stones" and that, at least culturally, Findley would have been a homosexual in his time. Um...
I imagine the greats gazing down (or looking up, depending on their past life choices) at us and laughing. "Hey Geoff, can you believe that these guys think your Canterbury Tales are politically-charged incitations for a socialist rebellion?"
"Haha yeah, they're pretty stupid. Look, they actually think that 'Paradise Lost' is an extended metaphor for sexual deviance."
"No way, WHAT?! LOL, I wrote that out of boredom while I was sitting on the john!"
"LMAO, these 'literary critics' are soooo n00b."
Yeah, I can see it too. And that's why, even though I attend (and occasionally enjoy) the classes, I refrain from engaging in idiotic dialogue, lest I risk the celestial mockery of those who went before us. I hope one day to join them up there, chilling with the Philly Cream Cheese lady and laughing at all the pompous cats who try to dissect my writing.