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Why read? What to read? The fate of reading!!! A Dialogue about Imaginative Prose.

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Presentation on theme: "Why read? What to read? The fate of reading!!! A Dialogue about Imaginative Prose."— Presentation transcript:

1 Why read? What to read? The fate of reading!!! A Dialogue about Imaginative Prose

2 “A Good Mystery: Why We Read” NYT 11/2007 The NEA long-term study (1982): as of 2007 Americans continue to read less and less for fun. Good News! “For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Reading on the Rise documents a definitive increase in rates and numbers of American adults who read literature, with the biggest increases among young adults, ages This new growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited previously in NEA reports such as Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read.” NEA 1/2009 Why did this happen????

3 What factors cause people to be drawn into imaginative prose? “Why people read what they read is a great unknown and personal thing.” Sara Nelson of Publisher’s Weekly “But in some ways it’s just provisional. I feel like it’s a mystery what makes us vulnerable to certain practices and not to others.” Junot Diaz “The right book at the right time can ignite a lifelong habit.” The Uncommon Reader “I really think it’s the age at which you find that book that you really identify with that determines the rest of your reading life. The younger you are when you do that, the more likely you’re going to be a serious reader.” Sherman Alexie “It’s that excitement of trying to discover that unknown world.” Azar Nafisi “There are all sorts of entrances that you can get into reading by reading what might at first seem trash.” Alan Bennett

4 Other sound bites…. “…reading is ultimately a private act.” “The book was a stepping off point into more heavyweight literature.” “What I find with readers today is they don’t go off on their own to another book. They wait for the next recommendation.” Jonathan Galassi “The questions of whether reading, or reading books in particular, is essential is complicated by the fact that part of what draws people to books can now be found elsewhere – and there is only so much time to consume it.”

5 Bloom – Targets, Goals, Objectives Anyone who would question any aspect of Harold Bloom’s stated views. Those who would try to promote literature as a vehicle for altruism, social improvement, or any variety of causes (cant). Ironically, are not Bloom’s views just another form of cant? He is an academic whose primary function is to write literary criticism, yet cautions us to distrust academia & ideologues (colleges / universities). Is this a paradox? The restoration of the deep reading experience. Saving irony, if such a thing is possible.

6 Bloom - Tone Ummm….haughty (or supercilious if you prefer). Also, didactic, authoritative, convicted. Ridiculous man crushes on Shakespeare, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Emerson, & to a lesser extent a handful of lesser deities in the pantheon.

7 Bloom – Provocative Ideas “What is the most challenging question facing every reader? What to read.” (too many books, too little time….) “Ultimately we read – as Bacon, Johnson, and Emerson agree – in order to strengthen the self, and to learn its authentic interests.” “Clear your mind of academic cant.” “I suggest that the recovery of the ironic might be our fifth principle for the restoration of reading….But with this principle, I am close to despair, since you can no more teach someone to be ironic than you can instruct them to be solitary. And yet the loss of irony is the death of reading, and of what had been civilized in our natures.” Can anyone, let alone Bloom, resolve this??? “Irony demands a certain attention span, and the ability to sustain antithetical ideas, even when they collide with one another. Strip irony away from reading, and it loses at once all discipline and all surprise. Find now what comes near to you, that can be used for weighing and considering, and it very likely will be irony, even if many of your teachers will not know what it is, or where it is to be found. Irony will clear your mind of the cant of the ideologues, and help you to blaze forth as the scholar of one candle.”

8 Bloom – Sound Bites “I turn to reading as a solitary praxis, rather than an educational enterprise.” “Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.” “…I am wary of any arguments whatsoever that connect the pleasures of solitary reading to the public good.” “The way we read now partly depends upon our distance, inner or outer, from the universities, where reading is scarcely taught as a pleasure, in any of the deeper senses of the aesthetics of pleasure.” “Do not attempt to improve your neighbor or your neighborhood by what or how you read.” “A scholar is a candle which the love and desire of all men will light.” (Wallace Stevens) “One must be an inventor to read.” (Emerson) “We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are. Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading of the now much-abused traditional canon is the search for a difficult pleasure.”

9 Birkerts – Targets, Goals, Objectives “Electronic postmodernity,” an age that has lost its taste for “the depth experience” of reading challenging imaginative prose (aka fiction).

10 Birkerts - Tone Foreboding urgency, frustration, near resignation? “I have been accused of being an alarmist and conservative and prey to excessive nostalgia. And I accuse myself of cowardly pessimism. Why can’t I embrace the necessity of historical progress?”

11 Birkerts - Provocative Ideas “The question, again, is ‘What is the place of reading, and of the reading sensibility, in our culture as it has become?’” “We are living in the midst of a momentous paradigm shift.” “If a person turns from print – finding it too slow, too hard, irrelevant to the excitements of the present – then what happens to that person’s sense of culture and continuity?” “Through the process of reading we slip out of our customary time orientation, marked by distractedness and surficiality, into the realm of duration. Only in the duration state is experience present as meaning.” (surficiality – nice example of a portmanteau word. A combination of “surface” and “superficiality”)

12 Birkerts – Sound Bites “What they [his students] really could not abide was what the vocabulary, the syntax, the ironic indirection, and so forth, were communicating. They didn’t get it, and their not getting it angered them, and they expressed their anger by drawing around themselves a cowl of ill-tempered apathy.” (regarding early 20 th century author Henry James) “We have been stripped not only of familiar habits and ways, but of familiar points of moral and psychological reference. Looking at our society, we see no real leaders, no larger figures of wisdom. Not a brave new world at all, but a fearful one.” “The more complex and sophisticated our systems of lateral access, the more we sacrifice in the way of depth.” The gains and losses of electronic postmodernity… (see p. 27) “There are, we know, fewer and fewer readers for serious works.”

13 Myers - Targets “Affected prose” as utilized & praised by a small but distinguished sample of literary intelligentsia.

14 Myers - Tone Controlled rant, witty, ironically haughty????? Objective is definitely to entertain as he informs. Spares no feelings. Refuses to kneel to literary elite just because we are supposed to.

15 Myers – Provocative Ideas “We have to read a great book more than once to realize how consistently good the prose is, because the first time around, and often even the second, we’re too involved in the story to notice. If Proulx’s fiction is so compelling, why are its fans more impressed by individual sentences than by the whole?” “Great prose isn’t always easy, but it’s always lucid….” “The truth is that a lot of us are perfectly happy with literature written before we were born – and why shouldn’t we be?” “Impenetrability is not a sign of ‘good’ writing, and puzzling over sentences should not (despite Toni Morrison’s claims to the contrary) be a part of the reading experience.”

16 Myers – Sound Bites “Today any accessible, fast moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be ‘genre fiction’ – at best an excellent ‘read’ or a ‘page turner,’ but never literature with a capital L. Conversely….”Anything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other hand, is now considered to be ‘literary fiction’ – not necessarily good literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respectful attention than even the best-written thriller or romance.” “But what we are getting today is a remarkably crude form of affectation: a prose so repetitive, so elementary in its syntax, and so numbing in its overuse of wordplay that it often demands less concentration than the average ‘genre’ novel.” “The critics’ admiration for Proulx reflects a growing consensus that the best prose is that which yields the greatest number of standout sentences, regardless of whether or not they fit the context.”

17 Classic literature or literature with a capital “L” Question: What characteristics should distinguish a superior work of fiction????

18 Tenets we might use to characterize a “classic” piece of literature: 1.The novel should contain or demonstrate a universal truth or a universal question. It most likely focuses on one or more question or truth regarding the importance of man’s existence. The questions or truths may vary but they must apply to all civilized men in order to be universal. Simply raising or even answering a question is not enough; however, some enlightenment must take place either in the protagonist, the reader, or both. Some learning, development, or change must occur.

19 Tenets we might use to characterize a “classic” piece of literature: 2. A classic work of literature is one which is held in high regard because of its form, language, and / or literary elements which contribute to ideas that are inherent in the work. The form (or structure)should fit the subject: the introspection of the 18 year old narrator of All Quiet on the Western Front who is trying to come to grips with the war in the best way he can are more suited to the structure Remarque chose than they would have been to the soliloquies Shakespeare uses in his plays. The language should also aid the writer in fulfilling a purpose. For example, Hamlet’s use of puns is appropriate to his character, and they demonstrate one way he deals with the gravity of his situation. Literary elements, in particular the use of complex, relative figurative language, should be an integral component of the work. Think symbolism, archetypes, metaphors, allusions, personification, etc. For example, the river in Hesse’s Siddhartha is not only an important symbol connected to his enlightenment but it also reflects the fluid nature of Hesse’s style.

20 Tenets we might use to characterize a “classic” piece of literature: 3. The classic work of literature is one in which the protagonist demonstrates the complexity of human nature in his or her growth, change, enlightenment, or manner of living.  The reader should be able to relate to the protagonist in some identifiable way.  The protagonist’s “presentation” should be believable, thought-provoking, and should invite a relationship with the reader.  If there are unique protagonists used, each should provide his own distinct drama and put forth meanings that are unique.

21 Tenets we might use to characterize a “classic” piece of literature: 4. The classic has a plot element with which readers can identify: it should be interesting, challenging, and/or “readable.”  With regard to plot, the quality should be one that holds the reader’s interest with its suspenseful, stimulating, interesting, and/or provocative nature.

22 Tenets we might use to characterize a “classic” piece of literature: 5. The classic should be set up as a standard by which other works are judged, or it should be influential in some way to its readers and/or to future writers.  Does the novel seem destined for “great things” because of its quality?  It may take generations for the value of a narrative to emerge good or bad. (bad news for the author!)

23 Tenets we might use to characterize a “classic” piece of literature: 6. Irony Verbal, situational, dramatic: irony comes in different forms and can vary radically in its depth. All meaningful works of fiction are rich with irony. The ability to perceive and appreciate irony will very often dictate a reader’s level of appreciation for the work. For the purposes’ of this course, when in doubt write about irony whenever possible.


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