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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
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Literature, Literary History, Literary Study

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06/13/2007

Comments

Mark

You're right on. You describe what is in fact a "better" way of reading. I would add that the best books disarm even the most scrupulous readers, so that on a first reading form and content can be as seamless, and enjoyment can be as pure, as they are for the reader who is gleefully untainted by any knowledge of the art form. This is not the case with lesser books. Their deficiencies are plain in the moment, enjoyment made impossible by inferior artistry.

Scrupulosity thus becomes instinct, and the better reader develops a reflexive ability to recognize sham artistry. Whether or not further reflection and analysis follow depends on whether the reader is a practicing critic or not, and ultimately this is less important than the reading itself. Without readers capable of distinguishing between enjoyment that the writer earns through artistic mastery and enjoyment that is produced by formula or accident, literature need not exist.

Rohan Maitzen

I agree that most critics 'believe that a more "critical" re-reading only enhances the pleasure, producing a fuller, more expansive experience of the work.' Actually, I think many professors share this conviction as well. I would also add that often it is difficult to enjoy, on a first reading, something we don't understand very well, for whatever reason, and the 'extras' that an informed re-reading can involve may lead us to appreciate works that initially alienate or confuse us. One advantage of studying fiction or poetry is that through the initially coercive force of required reading, we can be motivated to persist in works we don't enjoy on a first try--and also be provided with some tools and strategies for reading them. Certainly in my own experience as both a student and a teacher, the result can be an expansion of mental and literary horizons as well as reading skills, and thus of the possibilities for pleasure.

susan

I too am a strong believer in re-reading, often an immediate reread when the paragraph or chapter may, as Rohan notes, become a confusion that we take as a hurdle to overcome to move on. There are many books that I know hold more than my original enjoyment of them and they've been marked to be read again some day.

There is also the natural tendency to include some of the "other" ways of reading within the initial reading as we become more adept and comfortable with seeking out more from text. I don't think that an accomplished reader ever reads for mere enjoyment alone, even the first time around; rather, he's mentally forming patterns--or discovering them, seeking symbolism and metaphor, and often unfortunately catching typos if he's a proofreader type. This doesn't take away from that enjoyment, enhancing it instead as if one scene is being shot from several different camera angles.

Kelly Cherry

Hear, hear! Good words.

maitresse

Cam's comment is interesting because it belies the fact that those not trained (or "indoctrinated") in literary criticism actually have no idea what literary critics do. Thus the vague references to analyzing character construction.

It's possible these people had boring high school English teachers, or experienced high school or even college English classes in a haze of confusion or frustration. But they certainly didn't pick up on what the point or the methodology of literary criticism is. All there is for them is enjoyment. They don't know how to do anything else with a text but enjoy it.

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