Tag Archive: concepts of literature


Essay Crisis

Ever since a young age, studying English at primary school, my superiors in the academic world – be they teachers, tutors, or lecturers – have constantly aggrandised the term ‘essay’. It is accepted fact in many departments and faculties across the globe that an essay is the optimum medium through which to express intellectual thought as literary criticism. And with this convention comes a wide variety of academic clichés and figures of speech prevalent in certain fields of discourse. But is an essay always the best way of structuring and expressing ideas on a work of literature?
cartoonified image of a hand with a pencil

The backbone of an essay is surely its content, but too often I see this lacking in essays written either in published collections or on electronic journals. I question whether the best way of engaging with a poem is really to write an essay about it, or whether a Powerpoint presentation, or a visually impactful, expansive reproduction of the work, written out with detailed annotations, is more powerful. When studying Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ for A Level, my teacher printed out the entirety of Faustus’s final speech on A3 paper, and we discussed it and annotated it in great detail. This was infinitely more enjoyable, appealing, and helpful at the time of revision than any essay I had written.

Throughout my teenage years I have written countless essays, predominantly for English and modern languages, that did not aid my understanding when I came to the exam at the end of the year any more than spending an hour or so making notes on the text itself. I used to spend days and days planning what I would write, desperately trying to organise my thoughts into some form of coherent arrangement, when I could have been devoting that time to reading the text itself.

There are some essays, without a doubt, that are exemplary in terms of what literary criticism should ultimately constitute. However, too often I read what amount to vacuous musings on the text, void of any real purchase onto its linguistic make-up and too afraid of Wimsatt’s ‘affective fallacy’ to demonstrate any real, intriguing engagement. Impersonality, objectivity, and academic convention have tarnished much positive interaction with the text, as young writers feel that they cannot express themselves for fear that their style and rhetoric is decidedly inadequate in comparison with established literary critics.

A common observation, pointed out numerous times but over and again with apparent originality, is that literary criticism uses the same medium as its subject, a luxury not afforded to any of the other arts. And yet, why does this have to be so? Why can’t a YouTube video engaging rigorously and tenaciously with a text be considered as ‘worthwhile’ as something too bogged down in rhetoric to be of any value? I myself have often learnt much more from watching an introductory clip on the Internet about a particular aspect of literary theory than I have from reading a dense and periphrastic essay.

I am not saying: ‘get rid of all essays’. I am not saying ‘YouTube is the way forward for literary criticism’. But what I am saying is that the essay should not have pride of place without having continually to justify itself. There are too many essays I read in English, Spanish or French that are useful for nothing more than the odd quotation when a critic has invested all their mental capacities into producing some pleasant turn of phrase. Often I have been more impressed with close analysis -of poetry, in particular – on websites such as Sparknotes than I have with general, overview-type essays written by critics and scholars who attempt to adopt this ‘objective’ stance. The demands on young writers to make their essays logically consistent, with clear lines of argument, sometimes detracts from what they originally think when reading a text. I say we let bullet points, visual media, colour, colloquialisms, and fun back into literary criticism.

 

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Updating the classics with an erotic twist

Pride and Prejudice rewritten with erotic, raunchy scenes in style of Fifty Shades of Grey

Reading classic literature may just have become sexy… literally. This is the news that, for better or worse, the erotic published Total E-Bound have decided to inject some erotic interest into classic fiction such as Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues

Under The Sea’. So, if you were left frustrated by the lack of a final chapter in which Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett’s sexual relations might have been described in great detail, then this new series of adorned Austen might just be for you.

The ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ effect?


Taking its cue, most probably, from the worldwide success of E.L. James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, this remarkable idea has now become a reality after many years of critical speculation and discussion. The fantastic rise to fame of this modern trilogy (perhaps rather unjustly labelled ‘mummy porn’ by many commentators) has convinced the publishers that such titivated versions of well-known narratives might be a profitable venture.But such an effect raises many intriguing questions about the authority of literature itself. What right does any publisher have to take existing texts and refurbish them in any way they like? The person tasked with the job of rewriting these novels must be held accountable for each and every change. Ultimately, I fear, the hullabaloo that will undoubtedly surround this news for many months to come may well work in its favour, for controversy is a brilliant step towards exposure.

Issues that arise out of these releases

Martin Amis, amongst others, has expressed frustration at the – in his view, at least partially incomplete – endings of such novels as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and he postulates the idea of ‘a 20-page sex scene featuring the two principals’ that might supplement the present conclusion.

Fifty Shades of Grey erotic novel written by E. L. James


But surely this notion presupposes one essential (in my view, deeply flawed) belief: that readers would prefer to have the sexual tension that pervades these novels grasped and drawn out explicitly on the page. But perhaps the very fact that there is no obvious consummation of Darcy and Bennett’s relationship is somehow better than the alternative. Literature depends as much on reticence as on revelation, and if everything is publicised then it may well detract from the overall sense of mystery. A reader can decide and conjecture for themselves what happens beyond the end – an end that is not really an end, in other words.Classic fiction gets sexy

This publication will be considered a travesty by some die-hard, avid readers of classic fiction, and will be welcomed by others who have always wondered what might have happened. In the eBook era, where public transport is crammed full of people reading works of literature on hand-held devices, there is no longer any shame in reading a raunchy novel. The blank face on the back of a Kindle, for example, serves the function that the brown bags used to in the days immediatel
y after the release of D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Readers do not have to hide what they are reading, because the anonymity of the Kindle back cover does not give away what is being accessed at any given moment.

Some examples of the risqué additions

Let’s take a look at some of the changes that you can expect find:

In Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’, Catherine finds herself in ‘a whole new world of eroticism … where sex knows no boundaries’ when she encounters Henry and begins to engage with him. In Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, retitled ‘Jane Eyre Laid Bare’, Jane is informed that ‘My penis is hard. …That is what kissing you does to me. My body is filled with desire.’ Little is left to the imagination!

Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' given special treatment in new raunchy edition.But that’s just it: the imagination is hindered, and given everything explicitly. Literature does not have to be explicit (in its literal sense) and should not be rewritten just because someone is frustrated at an unexplored, or merely suggested, narrative tract.

The verdict on these erotic rewrites

So, read them if you want to, but don’t be disappointed if you find a clumsy break in the development of a paragraph where the second author has interrupted the original to inject some erotic interest. The prevalence of reader-response theories in critical readings of fiction nowadays has gone some way to making us more aware of an individual’s approach to a work of literature. This should alert us to the fact that many interpretations – some erotic, some not so – are not just possible, but resoundingly valid. If you think that Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship should have been more sexual, or at least more clearly so in the book, then use your imagination to envisage it! There is so much more to that eventual bond than sex, and it should not be reduced to that level simply to appease some minds.

Image sources: 1, 23

With the dramatic rise to prominence of the Kindle, and with software such as iBooks and Stanza now close at hand in our digital age, are we to admit that we are turning over the page to the final chapter for books? Here are some very interesting ideas to consider regarding this topical debate.

Interesting ideas about the Kindle

I have tried to use a Kindle in the past and have found it immensely frustrating not to be able to write on what I am reading when I come to something particularly important or interesting. I like to write in my books and although it is possible with an eReader to highlight an area of text and save it to your profile, in my view this will never beat pencil on paper. Moreover, when I am reading a book, be it a novel, play or poem, I am constantly aware of how far through the work I am at a particular moment. This sense of progression is emulated to a certain extent with digital books, in that there is a percentage in the top right hand corner of the screen, but this once again does not live up to scratch. To say that I am 19% through a book does not have the sense of personal interaction with a text as a general feel of the printed pages and it makes it seem like a goal to finish – to get to 100%. I do not want to conquer the book; I want to engage with it.

eBooks vs the printed word

The Internet is full of uploads and downloads with these percentages, and the only thing on our mind when we see these numbers is to get it over and done with so that we can concentrate on the rest. I don’t need to know that I am 19% of the way through; just a rough and non-numerical indication of how far through the text I am. When reading a novel (say you’re on page 156, for instance), you know that before you (I envisage a picture of the words being contained further left than the left-hand page you are reading, always accessible), you can find the words you have just read. They are always there and you can flick back to them whenever you wish to clarify something or jog your memory. But with an eReader there is no sense of this continuous trail coming in from the left (outside of the page) and arriving at the sentence you are on. When I turn a page on an eReader I do not feel as though I am progressing and following the story. Every word is captured within this Kindle and I get the impression that each page is in effect a superposition of one onto the other, rather than an actual movement (although of course the book is not actually in motion) from left to right.

Do we read ‘better’ with eBook readers?

Whilst I appreciate that eReaders allow us to take a library of books with us on the go at once, I am critical of whether this is useful or helpful. Even on holiday, I only need to take a maximum of about 3 or 4 books with me at one time, which whilst taking up more space than one sole Kindle is not a great burden to bear. I would bet that the vast majority of Kindle readers right now on the go will read no more than one book between the time they leave their home and the time they return to it. Once again, we arrive at the issue of reading too quickly or too superficially. When we have a whole library of books in our hand, we want to get through as many as possible in the shortest space of time.

Interesting ideas about eReaders

If I go out with one book and I finish it whilst out, I will reread certain passages or I will reflect on what I have read before launching into another fictional world. In my opinion, many eReader users finish a book and then move on to the next one without much time for pensive contemplation or rigorous analysis. Of course, the experience of reading can be purely hedonistic, and I am not condemning those who read without being critical of the text before them, but it strikes me that the wealth of textual material available to devour on a Kindle leads readers to neglect their capacity for profound examination of a single one.

Observations on life: digital books vs printed books

On the other hand, we must accept that there are some major advantages of the Kindle over a physical book. Although it is not as easy as it could be right at the moment, given time it will become incredibly straightforward to look up a glossary or an index which will be fantastic for reference books and textbooks. Yet I simply cannot envisage a time, even in decades and decades, when there will be no books. Digital books have their uses, but I cannot imagine a new publication not being printed as a physical book. As Alan Bennett notes in The Uncommon Reader, writing from the mindset of the Queen who has stumbled into a library and discovered the joys of reading: “Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.” But digital books really do care. Books on Kindles are packed with ratings, percentages, figures, comments, reviews. In contrast, whilst might get a price tag on the back of a novel, but we soon scratch that off and we are on our way.

Conclusions to the debate

Many people may well prefer eReaders, but there will always be a large number who will stick to physical books. It is without a doubt a challenge to their authority, but this is not the death of books. It’s not even their final chapter. Books will prevail and will not be overcome. They may not actually care ‘who (is) reading them or whether one read(s) them or not”, but they will continue to be read, over and over again, by readers who, despite the advancements of the digital age, simply prefer the organic experience of meeting a printed book with whose experiences s/he can suffer, communicate, and interact.

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