Monday, 12 April 2010

Is it possible to feel critically?

I've been thinking about that series of disjointed thoughts I dropped here yesterday. I think I made it seem as though my options for reading have been either intellectual or emotional; certainly, I've tried to separate the two throughout my years of schooling, in part because I had to. In fact, not separating them makes intuitive sense to me, but what makes intuitive sense doesn't, however, look good on any formal work I've produced. Here on Bookphilia, both are almost always present, in varying proportions, but I feel as though they're very rarely represented simultaneously; rather, I think I alternate my emotional responses with my intellectual ones and while that may or may not be entertaining, it's ultimately quite frustrating for me.

The reason I find this so frustrating is that I think the very best literature out there, regardless of how authors manage it, presents that seamless marriage of the thoughtful and the heart-ful (to coin a neologism that already has more sentimental and mushy connotations than I would like) - Cloud Atlas, David Copperfield, Silas Marner - my god!

I would like to be able to do such literature justice in my discussions here by mirroring this blended approach (or result, if we're going to try to leave the authors out of it), but there are very few things I've written in my life that I'm truly pleased with. Academically, most seemed too dry and empty and here, I often feel a little bit too jokey, mean, or maudlin, depending on the book. Not that jokey and mean aren't enjoyable and, I hope, pleasing but that sometimes these are easier, much easier, than what I imagine I could be doing. As for maudlin, what can I say? I don't hold back, which is why I couldn't read A Tale of Two Cities in public.

As a prof, I spent a great deal of time guiding my students away from what they were feeling about texts and towards what they were thinking (if anything). Essays talking about what a jerk Hamlet is to Ophelia aren't prize-winners in the university system, but if students were taught how to critically use their emotional responses to texts, instead of having them try to ignore that stuff altogether, something amazing might happen. However, I will obviously not be the one to lead such a revolution.

That said, I will continue to muddle along. Reading is not something I can happily live without and neither, it turns out, is writing about what I read, even if what I produce is a monstrous mish-mash of brilliant intellectual incisiveness and puddles of cyberspatial tears.

6 comments:

Kevin said...

C, this bit of yours reminds me of Nussbaum who argues that emotions are a form of appraisal. Fear, anger, jealousy, sadness, "wanting to visit violence on an author," and other emotions disclose a world in which we necessarily take a *subjective* interest. Anyhow, I just now read what I wrote and feel lamely pedantic. So, change of topic: did you know that the narrator in Black Swan Green describes himself as a non-stammering stammerer, just as Mitchell does in the interview at BtL? Those exact words! No clue why this makes me indescribably happy. But it does. Cheers, K

Yuri... said...

Speaking of Black Swan Green, just last night I was wishing that I had never read it. That way I could pick it up anytime and savour it for the first time :)

Colleen, I know what you mean about the intellectual/emotional often seeming mutually exclusive - and all too often, in my case, both seem too squirrelly (sp?) to express in a coherent manner.

I recognize that some of your posts are definitely more analytical and intellectual than others. However, perhaps from what I know of you as a person, I always feel like your personality (which includes the emotional) is embedded in your writing...

chasingbawa said...

I find I'm always struggling to balance the two when writing my posts about books I've read. If a book hasn't touched me emotionally (but which I still like and think is great) I can keep a safe distance and write critically about it, but if it does, then my posts tend to ramble as I try and express how much I loved it. I'm hoping my posts will evolve as I keep writing.

chasingbawa said...

How interesting and so true! I find it quite difficult to write critically and emotionally. I find if I love a book I get too emotional and end up gushing about it without reviewing it critically. In the same way, I end up being too critical if a book doesn't have that emotional punch. What I would like to be is somewhere in between...

Trapunto said...

A subject dear to my analytical heart!

I was just thinking about someone who insisted to me that it wasn't possible to have feelings for ideas (and by extension, works of art), only people. Anyone who claimed otherwise was confused about where her feelings were directed, or confusing thoughts with feelings. Nearly ten years later, I still feel attacked and dismissed . . . by her ideas.

"I don't hold back, which is why I couldn't read A Tale of Two Cities in public."

I love to read those books is late at night, by myself, with total abandon. Then mop up and go to sleep!

Colleen said...

Kevin: Yes, I did know that Mitchell and his narrator are both non-stammering stammerers. No need to explain your happiness to me. :)

Yuri: Thankee! I think.

chasingbawa: I'm prone to the emotional gushiness too, not to mention critical blindness. There's a book called The Immaculate Conception which I love. Kevin has rightly pointed out some major flaws in it; but I love it so much that knowing those flaws exist just rolls off me. I blithely assert that I don't care. That's not a useful way to talk about a book, but there it is.

Trapunto: "Then mop up and go to sleep." That made me laugh out loud; ah, the humour of recognition! Welcome.