How to read literature like a professor audiobook part 1

How to read literature like a professor audiobook part 1



Harper audio presents how to read literature like a professor a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines by Thomas C Foster read by David DeVries introduction how'd he do that mr. Lindner that milquetoast right mr. Lindner the milquetoast so what did you think the devil would look like if he were read with the tail horns and cloven hooves any fool could say no the class and I are discussing Lorraine Hansberry a Raisin in the Sun 19:59 one of the great plays of the american theater the incredulous questions have come as they often do in response to my innocent suggestion that mr. Lindner is the devil the youngers an african-american family in Chicago have made a down payment on a house in an all-white neighborhood mr. Lindner a meekly apologetic little man has been dispatched from the Neighborhood Association check in hand to buy out the family's claim on the house at first Walter Lee younger the protagonist confidently turns down the offer believing that the family's money in the form of a life insurance payment after his father's recent death is secured shortly afterward however he discovers that 2/3 of that money has been stolen all of a sudden the previously insulting offer comes to look like his financial salvation bargains with the devil go back a long way in Western culture in all the versions of the Faust legend which is the dominant form of this type of story the hero has offered something he desperately wants power or knowledge or a fastball that will beat the Yankees and all he has to give up is his soul this pattern holds from the Elizabethan Christopher Marlowe's dr. Faustus through the 19th century Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust to the 20th century's Stephen Vincent Benet s the devil and Daniel Webster and Damn Yankees in hands buries version when mr. Lindner makes his offer he doesn't demand Walter Lee's soul in fact he doesn't even know that he's demanding it he is though Walter Lee can be rescued from the monetary crisis he has brought upon the family all he has to do is admit that he's not the equal of the white residents who don't want him moving in that his pride and self-respect his identity can be bought if that's not selling your soul then what is it the chief difference between hands buries version of the Faustian bargain and others is that Walter Lee ultimately resists the satanic temptation previous versions have been either tragic or comic depending on whether the devil successfully collects the soul at the end of the work here the protagonist psychologically makes the deal but then looks at himself and at the true cost and recovers in time to reject the devil's mr. Lindner 'z offer the resulting play for all its tears and anguish is structurally comic the tragic downfall threatened but avoided and Walter Lee grows too heroic stature in wrestling with his own demons as well as the external one Lintner and coming through without falling a moment occurs in this exchange between professor and student when each of us adopts a look my look says what you don't get it there says we don't get it and we think you're making it up we're having a communication problem basically we've all read the same story but we haven't used the same analytical apparatus if you've ever spent time in a literature classroom as a student or a professor you know this moment it may seem at times as if the professor is either inventing interpretations out of thin air or else performing parlor tricks a sort of analytical sleight of hand actually neither of these is the case rather the professor as the slightly more experienced reader has acquired over the years the use of a certain language of reading something to which the students are only beginning to be introduced what I'm talking about is a grammar of literature a set of conventions and patterns codes and rules that we learn to employ in dealing with a piece of writing every language has a grammar a set of rules that govern usage and meaning and literary language is no different it's all more or less arbitrary of course just like language itself take the word arbitrary as an example it doesn't mean anything inherently rather at some point in our past we agreed that it would mean what it does and it does so only in English those sounds would be so much gibberish in Japanese or Finnish so too with art we decided to agree that perspective the set of tricks artists used to provide the illusion of depth was a good thing and vital to painting this occurred during the Renaissance in Europe but when Western and oriental art encountered each other in the 1700s Japanese artists and their audiences were serenely untroubled by the lack of perspective in their painting no one felt it particularly essential to the experience of pictorial art literature has its grammar – you knew that of course even if you didn't know that you knew from the structure of the preceding paragraph that it was coming how the grammar of the essay you can read and part of reading is knowing the conventions recognizing them and anticipating the results when someone introduces a topic the grammar of literature then digresses to show other topics language art music dog training it doesn't matter what examples as soon as you see a couple of them you recognize the pattern you know he's coming back with an application of those examples to the main topic voila and he did so now we're all happy because the convention has been used observed noted anticipated and fulfilled what more can you want from a paragraph well as I was saying before I so rudely digressed so to in literature stories and novels have a very large set of conventions types of characters plot rhythms chapter structures point of view limitations poems have a great many of their own involving form structure rhythm rhyme plays too and then there are conventions that cross genre lines spring is largely Universal so is snow so is darkness and sleep when spring is mentioned in a story a poem or a play a veritable constellation of associations rises in our imaginative sky use promise new life young lambs children skipping on and on and if we associate even further that constellation may lead us to more abstract concepts such as rebirth fertility renewal okay let's say you're right and there is a set of conventions a key to reading literature how do I get so I can recognize these same way you get to Carnegie Hall practice when lay readers encounter effective text they focus as they should on the story and the characters who are these people what are they doing and what wonderful or terrible things are happening to them such readers respond first of all and sometimes only to their reading on an emotional level the work affects them producing joy or revulsion laughter or tea anxiety or elation in other words they are emotionally and instinctively involved in the work this is the response level that virtually every writer who has ever set pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard has hoped for when sending the novel along with a prayer to the publisher when an English professor reads on the other hand he will accept the effective response level of the story we don't mind a good cry when Little Nell dies but a lot of his attention will be engaged by other elements of the novel where did that effect come from whom does this character resemble where have I seen this situation before didn't Dante or Chaucer or Merle Haggard's say that if you learn to ask these questions to see literary texts through these glasses you'll read and understand literature in a new light and it'll become more rewarding and fun memory symbol pattern these are the three items that more than any other separate the professorial reader from the rest of the crowd English professors as a class are cursed with memory whenever I read a new work I spend the mental rolodex looking for correspondences and corollaries where have I seen his face don't I know that theme I can't not do it although there are plenty of times when that ability is not something I want to exercise thirty minutes into Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider 1985 for instance I thought okay this is Shane 1953 and from there I didn't watch another frame of the movie without seeing Alan lads face this does not necessarily improve the experience of popular entertainment professors also read and think symbolically everything is a symbol of something it seems until proven otherwise we asked is this a metaphor is that an analogy what does the thing over there signify the kind of mind that works its way through undergraduate and then graduate classes in literature and criticism has a predisposition to see things as existing in themselves while simultaneously also representing something else Grendel the monster in the medieval epic Beowulf 8th century AD is an actual monster but he can also symbolize a the hostility of the universe to human existence a hostility that medieval anglo-saxons would have felt acutely and be a darkness in human nature that only some higher aspect of ourselves as symbolized by the title hero can conquer this predisposition to understand the world in symbolic terms is reinforced of course by years of training that encourages and rewards the symbolic imagination a related phenomenon in professorial reading is pattern recognition most professional students of literature learned to take in the foreground detail while seeing the patterns that the detail reveals like the symbolic imagination this is a function of being able to distance oneself from the story to look beyond the purely affective level of plot drama characters experience has proven to them that life and books fall into similar patterns nor is this skill exclusive to English professors good mechanics the kind who used to fix cars before computerized diagnostics use pattern recognition to diagnose engine troubles if this and this are happening then check that literature is full of patterns and your reading experience will be much more rewarding when you can step back from the work even while you're reading it and look for those patterns when small children very small children begin to tell you a story they put in every detail in every word they recall with no sense that some features are more important than others as they grow they begin to display a greater sense of the plots of their stories what elements actually add to the significance and which do not so – with readers beginning students are often swamped with the mass of detail the chief experience of reading dr. Zhivago 1957 may be that they can't keep all the names straight Wiley veterans on the other hand will absorb those details or possibly overlook them to find the patterns the routines the archetypes at work in the background let's look at an example of how the symbolic mind the pattern observer the powerful memory combined to offer a reading of a non-literary situation let's say that a male subject you were studying exhibits behavior and make statements that show him to be hostile toward his father but much warmer and more loving toward even dependent on his mother okay that's just one guy so no big deal but you see it again in another person and again and again you might start to think this is a pattern of behavior in which case you would say to yourself now where have I seen this before your memory may dredge up something from experience not your clinical work but a play you read long ago and your use about a man who murders his father and marries his mother even though the current examples have nothing to do with drama your symbolic imagination will allow you to connect the earlier instance of this pattern with a real-life examples in front of you at the moment and your talent for nifty naming will come up with something to call this pattern the oedipal complex as I said not only English professors use these abilities Sigmund Freud reads his patients the way a literary scholar reads texts bringing the same sort of imaginative interpretation to understanding his cases that we try to bring to interpreting novels and homes and plays his identification of the oedipal complex is one of the great moments in the history of human thought with as much literary as psychoanalytical significance what I hope to do in the coming pages is what I do in class give readers a view of what goes on when professional students of literature do their thing a broad introduction to the codes and patterns that inform our readings I want my students not only to agree with me that indeed mr. Lindner is an instance of the demonic tempter offering Walter Lee younger a Faustian bargain I want them to be able to reach that conclusion without me I know they can with practice patience and a bit of instruction and so can you chapter one every trip is a quest except when it's not ok so here's the deal let's say purely hypothetically you're reading a book about an average 16 year old kid in the summer of 1968 the kid let's call him Kip who hopes his acne clears up before he gets drafted is on his way to the A&P his bike is a 1 speed with a coaster brake and therefore deeply humiliating and riding it to run an errand for his mother makes it even worse along the way he has a couple of disturbing experiences including a minorly unpleasant encounter with a German Shepherd topped off in the supermarket parking lot where he sees the girl of his dreams Karen laughing and horsing around and Tony Vauxhall's brand-new Barracuda now Kip hates Tony already because he has a name like Vauxhall and not like Smith which Kip thinks is pretty lame as a name to follow Kip and because the kuda is bright green and goes approximately the speed of light and also because Tony has never had to work a day in his life so Karen who is laughing and having a great I'm turns and sees Kip who has recently asked her out and she keeps laughing she could stop laughing and it wouldn't matter to us since we're considering this structurally in the story were inventing here though she keeps laughing Kip goes on into the store to buy the loaf of Wonder Bread that his mother told him to pick up and as he reaches for the bread he decides right then and there to lie about his age to the Marine recruiter even though it means going to be at naam because nothing will ever happen for him in this one-horse burg were the only thing that matters is how much money your old man has either that or Kip has a vision of st. Abelard any saint will do but our imaginary author picked a comparatively obscure one whose face appears on one of the red yellow or blue balloons for our purposes the nature of the decision doesn't matter any more than whether Karin keeps laughing or which color balloon manifests the Saint what just happened here if you were an English professor and not even a particularly weird English professor you'd know that you just watched a knight have a not very suitable encounter with his nemesis in other words a quest just happened but it just looked like a trip to the store for some white bread true but consider the quest of what does it consist a knight a dangerous road a Holy Grail whatever one of those may be at least one dragon one evil Knight one princess sound about right that's a list I can live with a knight named Kip a dangerous road nasty German shepherds a Holy Grail one form of which is a loaf of Wonder bread at least one dragon trust me a 68 CUDA could definitely breathe fire one evil night Tony one princess who can either keep laughing or stop seems like a bit of us Treach on the surface sure but let's think structurally the quest consists of five things a a quest er be a place to go see a stated reason to go there d challenges and trials on route and e a real reason to go there item a is easy a quest er is just a person who goes on a quest whether or not he knows it's a quest in fact usually he doesn't know items B and C should be considered together someone tells our protagonist our hero who need not look very heroic to go somewhere and do something go in search of the Holy Grail go to the store for bread go to Vegas and whack a guy tasks of varying nobility to be sure but structurally all the same go there do that note that I said the stated reason for the quest that's because of item E the real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason in fact more often than not the Questor fails at the stated task so why do they go and why do we care they go because of the stated task mistakenly believing that it is their real mission we know however that their quest is educational they don't know enough about the only subject that really matters themselves the real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge that's why Questers are so often young inexperienced immature sheltered 45 year old men either have self-knowledge or they're never going to get it while your average sixteen to seventeen year old kid is likely to have a long way to go in the self-knowledge department let's look at a real example when I teach the late 20th century novel I always begin with a greatest quest novel of the last century Thomas Pynchon's crying of lot 49 1965 beginning readers can find the novel mystifying irritating and highly peculiar true enough there is a good bit of cartoonish strangeness in the novel which can mask the basic quest structure on the other hand Sir Gawain and the Green Knight late 14th century and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene 1596 two of the great quest narratives from early English literature also have what modern readers must consider cartoonish elements it's really only a matter of whether we're talking classics Illustrated or zap comics so here's the set up in the crying of lot 49 one-hour Questor a young woman not very happy in her marriage or her life not too old to learn not too assertive where men are concerned too a place to go in order to carry out her duties she must drive to Southern California from her home near San Francisco eventually she will travel back and forth between the two and between her past a husband with a disintegrating personality and a fondness for LSD and insane ex-nazi psychotherapist and her future highly unclear 3a stated reason to go there she has been made executor of the will of her former lover a fabulously wealthy and eccentric businessman and stamp collector for challenges and trials our heroine meets lots of really strange scary and occasionally truly dangerous people she goes on a night long excursion through the world of the outcasts and the dispossessed of San Francisco enters her therapist's office to talk him out of his psychotic shooting rampage the dangerous enclosure known in the study of traditional quest romances as Chapel perilous involves herself in what may be a centuries-old postal conspiracy 5 the real reason to go did I mention that her name is Oedipa Oedipa mas actually she's named for the great tragic character from Sophocles drama Oedipus the King circa 425 BC whose real calamity is that he doesn't know himself in pyncheons novel the heroines resources really her crutches and they all happen to be male are stripped away one by one shown to be false or unreliable until she reaches the point where she either must break down reduce to a little fetal ball or stand straight and rely on herself and to do that she first must find the self on whom she can rely which she does after considerable struggle gives up on men Tupperware parties easy answers plunges ahead into the great mystery of the ending acquires dare we say self-knowledge of course we dare still you don't believe me then why does the stated goal fade away we hear less and less about the will and the estate as the story goes on and even the surrogate goal the mystery of the postal conspiracy remains unresolved at the end of the novel she's about to witness an auction of some rare forged stamps and the answer to the mystery may appear during the auction we doubt it though given what's gone before mostly we don't even care now we know as she does that she can carry on that discovering that men can't be counted on doesn't mean the world ends that she's a whole person so there and 50 words or more is why professors of literature typically think the crying of lot 49 is a terrific little book it does look a bit weird at first glance experimental and super hip but once you get the hang of it you see that it follows the conventions of a quest tale so does Huck Finn the Lord of the Rings North by Northwest star wars and most other stories of someone going somewhere and doing some thing especially if the going in the doing wasn't his idea in the first place a word of warning if I sometimes speak here and in the chapters to come as if a certain statement is always true a certain condition always obtains I apologize always and never are not words that have much meaning in literary study for one thing as soon as something seems to always be true some wise guy will come along and write something to prove that it's not if literature seems to be too comfortably patriarchal a novelist like the late Angela Carter or a poet like the contemporary Evan Boland will come along and upend things just to remind readers and writers of the falseness of our established assumptions if readers start to pigeonhole african-american writing as was beginning to happen in the 1960s and 1970s a trickster like Ishmael Reed will come along who refuses to fit in any pigeonhole we could create let's consider journeys sometimes the quest fails or is not taken up by the protagonist moreover is every trip really a quest it depends some days I just drive to work no adventures no growth I'm sure that the same is true in writing sometimes plot requires that a writer get a character from home to work and back again that said when a character hits the road we should start to pay attention just to see if you know something's going on there once you figure out quests the rest is easy chapter two nice to eat with you acts of communion perhaps you've heard the anecdote about Sigmund Freud one day one of his students or assistants or somesuch hanger-on was teasing him about his fondness for cigars referring to their obvious phallic nature the great man responded simply that sometimes as a is just a cigar I don't really care if the story is true or not actually I think I prefer that it be apocryphal since made-up anecdotes have their own kind of truth still it is equally true that just as cigars maybe just cigars so sometimes they are not same with meals in life and of course in literature sometimes a meal is just a meal and eating with others is simply eating with others more often than not though it's not once or twice a semester at least I will stop discussion of the story or play under consideration to intone and I invariably intone in bold whenever people eat or drink together its communion for some reasons this is often met with a slightly scandalized look communion having for many readers one and only one meaning while that meaning is very important it is not the only one nor for that matter does Christianity have a lock on the practice nearly every religion has some liturgical or social ritual involving the coming together of the faithful to share sustenance so I have to explain that just as intercourse has meanings other than sexual more at least did at one time so not all communions are holy in fact literary versions of communion can interpret the word in quite a variety of ways here's the thing to remember about communions of all kinds in the real world breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace since if you're breaking bread you're not breaking heads one generally invites one's friends to dinner unless one is trying to get on the good side of enemies or employers we're quite particular about those with whom we break bread we may not for instance accept a dinner invitation from someone we don't care for the act of taking food into our bodies is so personal that we really only want to do it with people were very comfortable with as with any convention this one can be violated a tribal leader or mafia don se may invite his enemies to lunch and then have them killed in most areas however such behavior is considered very bad form generally eating with another as a way of saying I'm with you I like you we form a community together and that is a form of communion so – in literature and in literature there is another reason writing a meal scene is so difficult and so inherently uninteresting that there really needs to be some compelling reason to include one in the story and that reason has to do with how characters are getting along or not getting along come on food is food what can you say about fried chicken that you haven't already heard said scene thought and eating is eating with some slight variations of table manners to put characters then in this mundane overused fairly boring situation something more has to be happening than simply beef Forks and goblets so what kind of communion and what kind of result can it achieve any kind you can think of let's consider an example that will never be confused with religious communion the eating scene and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones 17:49 which as one of my students once remarked sure doesn't look like Church specifically Tom and his lady friends mrs. waters dine at an inn chomping gnawing sucking on bones licking fingers a more leering slurping groaning and in short sexual meal has never been consumed well it doesn't feel particularly important Thumb Attica Lee and moreover it's as far from traditional notions of communion as we can get it nevertheless constitutes a shared experience what else is the eating about in that scene except consuming the others body think of it as a consuming desire or two of them and in the case of the movie version of Tom Jones starring Albert Finney 1963 there's another reason Tony Richardson the director couldn't openly show sex as well sex there were still taboos in film in the early 60s so what he does is show something else as sex and it's probably dirtier than all but two or three sex scenes ever filmed when those two Finnish swilling a land slurping on drumsticks and sucking fingers and generally wallowing and moaning the audience wants to lie back in smoke but what is this expression of desire except a kind of communion very private admittedly and decidedly not wholly I want to be with you you want to be with me let us share the experience and that's the point communion doesn't need to be holy or even decent how about a slightly more sedate example the late Raymond Carver wrote a story Cathedral 1981 about a guy with real hangups included among the many things the narrator is bigoted against our people with disabilities minorities those different from himself and all parts of his wife's past in which he does not share now the only reason to give a character a serious hang-up is to give him the chance to get over it he may fail but he gets the chance it's the code of the West when our unnamed narrator reveals to us from the first moment that a blind man a friend of his wife's is coming to visit we're not surprised that he doesn't like the prospect at all we know immediately that our man has to overcome disliking everyone who was different and by the end he does when he and the blind man sit together to draw a cathedral so the blind man can get a sense of what one looks like to do that they have to touch hold hands even and there's no way the narrator would have been able to do that at the start of the story carvers problem then is how to get from the nasty prejudiced narrow-minded person of the opening page to the point where he can actually have a blind man's hand on his own at the ending the answer is food every coach I ever had would say when we faced a superior opposing team that they put on their pants one leg at a time just like everybody else what those coaches could have said in all accuracy is that those supermen shovel in the pasta just like the rest of us or in Carver's story meatloaf when the narrator watches the blind man eating competent busy hungry and well normal he begins to gain a new respect for him the three of them husband wife and visitor ravenously consumed the meatloaf potatoes and vegetables and in the course of that experience our narrator finds his antipathy toward the blind man beginning to break down he discovers he has something in common with a stranger eating is a fundamental element of life that there is a bond between them what about the dope they smoked afterward passing a joint doesn't quite resemble the wafer in the chalice does it but thinking symbolically where's the difference really please note I am NOT suggesting that illicit drugs are required to break down social barriers on the other hand here is a substance they take into their bodies in a shared almost ritualistic experience once again the act says I'm with you I share this moment with you I feel a bond of community with you it may be a moment of even greater trust in any case the alcohol at supper and the marijuana after combined to relax the narrator so he can receive the full force of his insight so he can share in the drawing of a cathedral which incidentally is a place of communion what about when they don't what if dinner turns ugly or doesn't happen at all a different outcome but the same logic I think if a well-run meal or snack portends good things for community and understanding then the failed meal stands as a bad sign it happens all the time on television shows two people or a dinner and a third comes up quite on wished-for and one or more of the first two refuse to eat they place their napkins on their plates or say something about losing their appetite or simply get up and walk away immediately we know what they think about the interloper think of all those movies were a soldier shares his sea rations with a comrade or a boy his sandwich with a stray dog from the overwhelming message of loyalty kinship and generosity you get a sense of how strong a value we place on the comradeship of the table what if we see two people having dinner then but one of them is plotting or bringing about the demise of the other in that case our revulsion at the act of murder is reinforced by our sense that a very important propriety namely that one should not do evil to one's dinner companions is being violated or consider an Tyler's dinner at the homesick restaurant 1982 the mother tries and tries to have a family dinner and every time she fails someone can't make it someone gets called away some minor disaster befalls the table not until her death can her children assemble around a table at the restaurant and achieve dinner at that point of course the body and blood they symbolically share are hers her life and her death become part of their common experience for the full effect of dining together consider James Joyce's story the dead 1914 this wonderful story is centered around a dinner party on the Feast of the Epiphany the 12th day of Christmas all kinds of disparate drives and desires enact themselves during the dancing and dinner and hostilities and alliances are revealed the main character Gabriel Conroy must learn that he is not superior to everyone else during the course of the evening he receives a series of small shocks to his ego that collectively demonstrate that he is very much part of the more general social fabric the table and dishes of food themselves are lavishly described as Joyce lures us into the atmosphere a fat brown goose lay its one end of the table and at the other end on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley lay a great Han stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs a neat paper frill rounded chin and beside this was a round of spiced beef between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side dishes to little minsters of jelly red in yellow a shallow dish full of blocks of Blanc Marche and red jam a large green leaf shaped dish with a stalk shaped handle on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of smyrna figs a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks in the center of the table there stood as sentries to a fruit stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples to squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass one containing port and the other dark sherry on the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms the first two black with brown and red labels the third and smallest squad white with transverse green sashes no writer ever took such care about food and drink so marshaled his forces to create a military effect of armies drawn up as for battle ranks files rival ends sentries squads sashes such a paragraph would not be created without having some purpose some ulterior motive now Joyce being Joyce he has about five different purposes one not being enough for genius his main goal though is to draw us into that moment to pull our chairs up to that table so that we are utterly convinced of the reality of the meal at the same time he wants to convey the sense of tension and conflict that has been running through the evening there are a host of us against them and you against me moments earlier and even during the meal and this tension will stand at odds with a sharing of this sumptuous and given the holiday unifying meal he does this for a very simple very profound reason we need to be part of that communion it would be easy for us simply to laugh at Freddy Malins the resident drunkard and his dotty mother to shrug off the table talk about operas and singers we've never heard of merely to snicker at the flirtations among the younger people to discount the tension Gabriel feels over the speech of gratitude he's obliged to make it meals end but we can't maintain our distance because the elaborate setting of this scene makes us feel as if we're seated at that table so we notice but little before Gabriel does since he's lost in his own reality that we're all in this together that in fact we share something the thing we share is our death everyone in that room from old and frail and Julia to the youngest music student will die not tonight but someday once you recognize that fact and we've been given a head start by the title whereas Gabriel doesn't know his evening has a title it's smooth sledding next to our mortality which comes to great and small equally all the differences in our lives are mere sir as details when the snow comes at the end of the story in a beautiful and moving passage it covers equally all the living and the dead of course it does we think the snow is just like death we're already prepared having shared in the communion meal Joyce has laid out for us a communion not of death but of what comes before of life chapter three nice to eat you acts of vampires what a difference a preposition makes if you take the width out of nice to eat with you it begins to mean something quite different less wholesome more creepy it just goes to show that not all eating that happens in literature is friendly not only that it doesn't even always look like eating beyond here there be monsters vampires in literature you say big deal I've read Dracula and Anne Rice good for you everyone deserves a good scare but actual vampires are only the beginning not only that they're not even necessarily the most alarming type after all you can at least recognize them let's start with Dracula himself and we'll eventually see why this is true you know how in all those Dracula movies or almost all the count always has this weird attractiveness to him sometimes he's downright sexy always he's alluring dangerous mysterious and he tends to focus on beautiful unmarried witch in the social vision of 19th century England means virginal women and when he gets them he grows younger more alive if we can say this of the undead more virile even meanwhile his victims become like him and begin to seek out their own victims van Helsing the counts ultimate nemesis and his lot then are really protecting young people and especially young women from this menace when they hunt him down most of this in one form or another can be found in Bram Stoker's novel 1897 although it gets more hysterical in the movie versions now let's think about this for a moment a nasty old man attractive but evil violates young women leaves his mark on them steals their innocence and coincidentally their usefulness if you think marriage ability you'll be about right too young man and leaves them helpless followers in his sin I think we'd be reasonable to conclude that the whole Count Dracula saga has an agenda to it beyond merely scaring us out of our wits although scaring readers out of there which is a noble enterprise and one that Stoker's novel accomplishes very nicely in fact we might conclude it has something to do with sex well of course it has to do with sex evil has had to do with sex since the serpent seduced Eve what was the upshot their body shame and unwholesome lust seduction temptation danger among other ills so vampirism isn't about vampires oh it is it is but it's also about things other than literal vampirism selfishness exploitation a refusal to respect the autonomy of other people just for starters we'll return to this list a bit later on this principle also applies to other scary favourites such as ghosts and duffle gangers ghosts doubles or evil twins we can take it almost as an act of faith that ghosts are about something besides themselves that may not be true in naive ghost stories but most literary ghosts the kind that occur in stories of lasting interest have to do with things beyond themselves but think of the ghost of Hamlet's father when he takes to appearing on the castle ramparts at midnight he's not there simply to haunt his son he's there to point out something drastically wrong in Denmark's royal household or consider Marley's ghost and Christmas Carol 1843 who is really a walking clanking moaning lesson in ethics for Scrooge in fact Dickens ghosts are always up to something besides scaring the audience or take dr. Jekyll's other half the hideous Edward Hyde exists to demonstrate to readers that even a respectable man has a dark side like many Victorians Robert Louis Stevenson believed in the dual nature of humans and in more than one work he finds ways of showing that duality quite literally in the Strange Case of dr. Jekyll and mr. Hyde 1886 he has dr. J drink a potion and become his evil half while in his now largely ignored short novel the master of Ballantrae 1889 he uses twins locked in fatal conflict to convey the same sense you'll notice by the way that many of these examples come from Victorian writers Stevenson Dickens Stoker J s lafa knew Henry James why because there was so much the Victorians couldn't write about directly chiefly sex and sexuality they found ways of transforming those taboo subjects and issues into other forms the Victorians were masters of sublimation but even today when there are no limits on subject matter or treatment writers still use ghosts vampires werewolves and all manner of scary things to symbolise various aspects of our more common reality try this for a dictum ghosts and vampires are never only about ghosts and vampires here's where it gets a little tricky though the ghosts and vampires don't always have to appear in visible forms sometimes the really scary bloodsuckers are entirely human let's look at another Victorian with experience and ghosts and non ghost genres Henry James James is known of course as a master perhaps the master of psychological realism if you want massive novels with sentences as long and convoluted as the Missouri River James is your man at the same time though he has some shorter works that feature ghosts and demonic possession and those are fun in their own way as well as a good deal more accessible his novella the turn of the screw 1898 is about a governess who tries without success to protect the two children in her care from a particularly nasty ghost who seeks to take possession of them either that or it's about an insane governess who fantasizes that a ghost is taking over the children in her care and in her delusion literally smothers them with protectiveness or just possibly it's about an insane governess who is dealing with a particularly nasty ghost who tries to take possession of her wards or possibly well let's just say that the plot calculus is tricky and that much depends on the perspective of the reader so we have a story in which a ghost features prominently even if we're never sure whether he's really there or not in which the psychological state of the governess matters greatly and in which the life of a child a little boy is consumed between the two of them the governess and the spectre destroy him one might say that the story is about fatherly neglect the stand-in for the father simply abandons the children to the governesses care and smothering maternal concern those two thematic elements are encoded into the plot of the novella the particulars of the encoding are carried by the details of the ghost story it just so happens that James has another famous story Daisy Miller 1878 in which there are no ghosts no demonic possession and nothing more mysterious than a midnight trip to the Colosseum in Rome Daisy is a young American woman who does as she pleases thus upsetting the rigid social custom of the European society she desperately wants to approve of her Winterbourne the man whose attention she desires while both attracted to and repulsed by her ultimately proves too fearful of the disapproval of his established expatriate American community to pursue her further after numerous misadventures Daisy dies ostensibly by contracting malaria on her midnight jaunt but you know what really kills her vampires no really vampires I know I told you there weren't any supernatural forces at work here but you don't need fangs and a cape to be a vampire the essentials of the vampire story as we discussed earlier an older figure representing corrupt outworn values a young preferably virginal female a stripping away of her youth energy virtue a continuance of the life force of the old male the death or destruction of the young woman okay let's see now Winterbourne and Daisy Carrie associations of winter death cold and spring life flowers renewal that ultimately come into conflict we'll talk about seasonal implications in a later chapter with winters frost destroying the delicate young flower he is considerably older than she closely associated with the stifling euro anglo-american society she is fresh and innocent and here is James brilliance so innocent as to appear to be a wanton he and his aunt and her circle watched Daisy and disapprove but because of a hunger to disapprove of someone they never cut her loose entirely they play with her yearning to become one of them taxing her energies until she begins to wane Winterbourne mixes voyeurism vicarious thrills and stiff-necked disapproval all of which culminate when he finds her with a male friend at the Coliseum and chooses to ignore her Daisy says of his behavior he cuts me dead that should be clear enough for anyone his and his cliques consuming of Daisy is complete having used up everything that is fresh and vital in her he leaves her to waste away even then she asks after him but having destroyed and consumed her he moves on not sufficiently touched it seems to me by the pathetic spectacle he has caused so how does all this tie in with vampires is James a believer in ghosts and spooks does Daisy Miller mean he thinks we're all vampires probably not I believe what happens here and in other stories and novels the sacred font 19:01 comes to mind is that he deems the figure of the consuming spirit or vampiric personality a useful narrative vehicle we find this figure appearing in different guises even under nearly opposite circumstances from one story to another on the one hand in the turn of the screw he uses the literal vampire or the possessing spook to examine a certain sort of psycho social imbalance these days we'd give it a label a dysfunctional something or other but James probably only saw it as a problem in our approach to child rearing or a psychic neediness in young women whom society disregards and discards on the other hand in Daisy Miller he employs the figure of the vampire as an emblem of the way society polite ostensibly normal society battens on and consumes its victims nor is James the only one the 19th century was filled with writers showing the thin line between the ordinary and the monstrous Edgar Allan Poe j/s life anew whose ghost stories made him the Stephen King of his day Thomas Hardy whose poor heroine in Tess of the d'Urbervilles 1890 provides table fare for the disparate hungers of the men in her life or virtually any novel of the naturalistic movement of the late 19th century where the law of the jungle and survival of the fittest reign of course the 20th century also provided plenty of instances of social vampirism and cannibalism franz kafka a latter-day Poe uses the dynamic and stories like the metamorphosis 1915 and a Hunger artist 1924 we're in a nifty reversal of the traditional vampire narrative crowds of onlookers watch as the artists fasting consumes him Gabrielle Garcia Marquez's heroine innocent Erendira in the tale bearing her name 1972 is exploited and put out to prostitution by her heartless grandmother D H Lawrence gave us any number of short stories where characters devour and destroy one another in life and death contests of will novellas like the Fox 1923 and even novels like women in love 1920 in which gudren Brangwyn and Gerald Critch although ostensibly in love with one another each realized that only one of them can survive and so engage in mutually destructive behavior Iris Murdoch pick a novel any novel not for nothing did she call one of her books a severed head 1961 although the unicorn 1963 would work splendidly here with its wealth of phony gothic creepiness there are works of course where the ghost or vampire is merely a gothic cheap thrill without any particular thematic or symbolic significance but such works tend to be short term commodities without much staying power and readers Minds or the public arena we're haunted only while we're reading in those works that continue to haunt us however the figure of the cannibal the vampire the succubus the spook

26 thoughts on “How to read literature like a professor audiobook part 1

  1. This is my first summer reading and i didn't know anything about this till now and school ened 2 months ago💀

  2. As someone who has summer homework and cannot for the life of me sit down and get past the first chapter (except for skipping to the sex chapters cause I’m immature) I must buckle down and take to the audiobook

  3. I'm in IB and I have to read this book for the class next year. I feel like I should have gone with AP instead, for their assignment was to know the definitions of a couple words, much of which they already know :/

  4. I'm 20, already been through AP lit and stuff, but I was always annoyed when other students thought the professor or teacher was reading too much into things. Like give them some credit man.

  5. Lol just bought the book at a salvation army for 10 cents, but I guess it will be helpful to listen to the audio while reading the physical book

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