09 February 2010

Miss, Will I Be Like This Forever?

Two things collided in my head today: one, a student in one of my classes asked me a fantastic question, and two I finally read up on all the controversy surrounding the US covers of both Liar and Magic Under Glass.

I can't remember the exact phrasing of the question, but it was basically as the title of this post: miss, will it be like this forever?

To which I of course responded with puzzlement - will what be??

My student explained that she was finding it difficult to watch certain movies without being constantly conscious of shots and angles and themes and characterisation and and and... And that her elder sister had told her that after completing a major in English in her high school studies, this got worse, not better.

I remember lamenting similar things when I was in highschool, and I know it's an all-too-common complaint that studying a novel in English class ruins an otherwise good novel.

In university, my creative writing lecturer noted that he never read without his 'editing' brain in gear anymore; that he couldn't enjoy certain books because of this.

What was my reply? That like many things in life, things get worse before they get better; that eventually, if you want to, you'll be able to turn the editing part of your brain off and enjoy something for what it is, without criticism.


And this is where the question collided with other things in my head.


A lot of people might argue that English ruins novels; that studying them and pulling them to pieces robs them of all enjoyment. That's it not worth going through the worse to get to the better; why bother at all?

Because it's important. I'm preaching to the choir here, I know, but it is important. Learning critical thinking, learning to think about what something is trying to say and how it's going about doing it - that's not only an English skill, that's a life skill. To be active, informed, global citizens, it's vital that we know how to interpret and understand the plethora of information that's thrown at us every single day. We need to know what hidden messages look like if we are ever to spot them; and if we have not studied texts in order to discover the meaning of life, of love, of joy or pain or sorrow or injustice - how are we to recognise it hidden deep in the texts of everyday life?

Bloomsbury's covers are a case in point.

Ignorance is no excuse for allowing injustice to flourish; and 'too hard' or 'uncomfortable' is no excuse for allowing ignorance to flourish.

We need the skills that tearing texts apart furnishes us with - even if they come at the cost of the enjoyment of a handful of novels and/or films.

Miss, will it be like this forever?

I certainly hope so.


WindyA said...

I certainly hope not, too.

Wulf said...

I have the same issue with music; the more I learn the less I appreciate what is on the market.

However, this increased expectation of quality is not all bad: when you read something great; when you hear something well done; when you uncover a masterpiece; your appreciation for it and ability to enjoy the work are magnified far beyond what the ignorant reader or listener.

The same is also true in martial arts, btw. Having studied for 20 years, I have trouble appreciating athletics or dance. But give me someone who really understands the intricacies of movement...

Krispy said...

Totally agree with you on this! Also, not only is studying texts important, I think it makes you appreciate just how good some of those works are. You finally get just why certain works are so enduring. It's true that sometimes the (over)analysis can ruin a good book or movie or what have you, but it can also make it that much better. Sometimes you don't notice the themes and the depth until you're forced to analyze and put your impressions into words.

The Odyssey is one of those stories I've read over and over, and it wasn't until I took a seminar on it and a Classics class in college that I realized how well crafted the story arc is, how beautiful some of the phrasing is, and how telling of the beliefs and customs of the time the adventures are. Studying the Odyssey only made me love it more.

And yeah, you learn to turn it off, or maybe I'm just really good at compartmentalizing things (academic thinking/stuff in one box, regular observer/reader in another). ;)

Ello at Hello Ello 2 had a good piece on the cover controversies and on the casting controversy of The Last Airbender movie.

Inkblot said...

Windy - lol

Wulf - I think it's something that you find in any area as you increase in your expertise. But you're right - sure it might 'ruin' the run of the mill stuff, but boy do you appreciate the gems when you find them!

Krispy - I totally agree that a really good story can withstand scrutiny. But I think that's partially the problem; classrooms aren't exactly as rigorous as they could be in deciding which books to study, at least not in terms of whether the book can withstand said study or not.

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