Thursday, April 3, 2008

Literature is a mountain...

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  • When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
  • Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
When I think of literature in that way I think of something high and untouchable- certainly not Shakepeare or Dickens who are two of the most accessible, inventive, funny, alive storytellers there ever were. Literature must drone on, it must live in heavy, musty tomes, I must feel when I read it that I could really only understand it if I were dead. James Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans or Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor come to mind. Oh yes, it would be nice if the writer had a Sir or Lady before his or her name, although he would likely be a man. He or she would need a properly dusty gravitas. Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain would also qualify if it weren't so damn good. Nothing I've ever been able to actually read would qualify as literature. It's literature before I have read it (Ulysses is for me now), but it becomes a great book if I finish it. That, or it's a book I should read, until I can't get through it, and then it becomes literature. A mountain, that's a great definition of literature - it should feel more like a mountain than a book. You can't get around it, you could never carry it with you, and you can't just take a nice walk on it - you need special shoes and grappling hooks.


Anonymous said...

Ulysses is one book I could never go beyond page 4. It stays that way!


Here is my BTT post!

joanna said...

Ha, great post! :-)

I don't think 'I should' is ever a good reason to do something!

Anonymous said...

Oh, that's funny. I have a much warmer attitude towards "literature" -- to me it's just fiction which strives in its major elements to do more than tell a good/entertaining story. So, yeah, all those guys mentioned count for me. Mountains are thrilling and the 'special shoes' and 'grappling hooks' are simply intelligence and curiosity. (I guess. Basically I just mean that we already have the specialist equipment -- we developed it as we forced our brains to deal with words and stories.)

I don't think "I should" are always for the worst, either. If we don't ever challenge ourselves how do we grow or develop? Unless of course one is lucky enough that one's whims and interests always dovetails with what's best and rewarding. :p

I guess that's why I don't mind academia half the time.

Lesley said...

How interesting, that to you 'literature' means something so inaccessible and unfathomable, and that it loses its powers if you can actually read it! If I were a therapist, I'd try to get to the bottom of this phobia!

Ted said...

I & L - I was responding to Lit-ra-chur, not literature!

Sheila O'Malley said...

lit-ra-chur - HAHAHA I love the accent!!

Now you know how I feel about Ulysses and you know that I am HERE for you when you start it ... just remember that James Joyce said, in regards to his book: "The pity is, the public will demand and find a moral in my book -- or worse they may take it in some more serious way, and on the honour of a gentleman, there is not one single serious line in it."

hahaha And you know what - when you read it with that in mind, you see that he is right. It is, indeed, "in the canon", and many treat it as "lit-ra-chur" - but if you look at it in the same way you look at Shakespeare, and Shakespeare's silliness and his showmanship - his "let me entertain you" energy at all times ... you can see the similarities. There really ISN'T "one single serious line in it" - and YET ... the language!!!

I love reading books whose reputations precede them - who have been pretty much ruined by academia - and realizing that they are really just a damn good yarn. Moby Dick is like that for me.

SO good seeing you last night - it did my heart good!!

Ted said...

S - It was just wonderful to see you. And you KNOW I'm going to take you up on Ulysses. Since I already know I have to get a PhD in the next five years, I think I'll try to do it during one of the next five summers. No one should have those three little letters and NOT have read Ulysses, I'll lose all credibility!