Category Archives: Literature Commentary
It seems to me like ludic academics are not entirely amicable to scholarly inquiry into a single text. Browsing through the most recent volumes of Eludamos, Game Studies, Loading (SFU), and Games and Culture, only a handful of articles will focus on sustained analysis about an individual title, and those that do use individual titles often do so as a case study to prove the merit of a theoretical framework posited in the same article rather than as catalyst for sustained analysis of the text itself.
While I understand the reasoning behind this – discussing concepts is, after all, a far more edifying and – honestly – fun endeavor than sustained inquiry into an individual text, I find the relative lack of single text analysis to be disheartening. At times, sustained scholarly inquiry into a single text can shed light not only on the meaning of the text, but about the role of the text and of media as a whole in society and might help reshape the way in which we talk about genres as a whole.
Why do I make this assertion? Read on.
I walk my kid to school every morning, and every morning we “philosophize” about stuff. It’s really just me asking questions about what he thinks about things (why is a leaf pile more fun than a dirt pile? for example) and sometimes me talking about how the world and nature works and him listening (the effects of the space vacuum on the resistance of things and gravity was the latest one), but “philosophizing” will do.
Yesterday as we walked to school I recited for him my favorite poem-within-a-poem, Wordsworth’s “Spots of Time”. The text of the poem is as follows:
There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
To me, the poem has always been about the power of memory and imagination, and how when one is depressed one can call upon their memories to feel uplifted. I asked my kid what he thought it was about. “Trampolines”, he said. Confused, I asked him to elaborate.
“Spots are round right?” he asked.
“Sure”, I replied.
“Well trampolines are round too”, he asserted.
“Ok and what else?” I asked.
“And in a trampoline when you jump you jump really really really high and when you fall down it it YOU JUMP ANYWAYS HURAGHRGUFRAGHUR” (that last bit was him laughing at the idea of falling on a trampoline).
So he explained the spot, he explained the “when high more high and lifts us up when fallen” parts, but then I asked him “what about the part of the poem that says that spots of time make you feel nourished and refreshed when you feel sad?” He simply replied “well trampolines are fun”.
The only problem with his interpretation is that the trampoline was invented some 80-ish years after the first publication of The Prelude (where one can find Spots of Time), but my kid is 7 he doesn’t know that. His interpretation was fun and inventive, and while it may not have the grandiose metaphysical implications of more accepted interpretations, I think it was brilliant and incredibly relevant to him.
And what does this has to do with education? Maybe it’s time for adults to let kids interpret poetry more often and not stifle them when they suggest something. Adults should encourage kids to think and push them with critical thinking prompts (why?), not just tell them, as I was often told during my early education, “your interpretation is wrong” or “I don’t think that’s it”. Foster and build up curiosity, don’t rip it out and tear it down.
A friend just sent me the above image, courtesy of Ph.D. Comics (check them out, they’re awesome) outlining “the seven chapters of a thesis”. While this outline applies to education, engineering, theoretical physics, linguistics, and pretty much all natural and social science disciplines (and more than likely to other fields as well), and this is all well and good, it honestly seems to me that these chapters don’t really apply to the humanities, specially to literary studies. I had to read several theses back when I was young and cool and was writing my thesis on Blake, and it honestly seems to me that the template for philosophy and literature theses is closer to this:
Chapter 1: Unintelligible jargon that maybe states what you will do but it’s more likely a heavily thesaurus’d excuse for why literature is amazing and your books are important.
Chapter 2: Impenetrable paraphrasing of the works of insert chair’s favorite theorist here, most often one who was considered important 20 – 70 years ago, such as Lacan or De Saussure.
Chapter 3: An academic-sounding summary of your texts (but it’s not really a summary, I promise it’s not!) followed by a short rationale of how your chair’s theorist is relevant to “unlocking new knowledge” / “discovering new perspectives to think about” / “complicate the problems presented in” / “explore with sufficient depth” (or a combination of those) your text.
Chapter 4: A hodgepodge of quotations taken from your text, your main theorist, and 10 – 15 recent critics published in journals (although you read all 500 items on your bibliography, or so you tell yourself) mixed in an impenetrable structure that secretly you think makes no sense but makes your chair happy, sprinkled with a few original sentences such as “Such-and-such author also agrees with the statements previously made in this investigation”.
Chapter 5: What you hope is a conclusion, but really reads like an extension of Chapter 4.
So there you go – some advice on writing a thesis for literature or philosophy.
*NOTE: This post in no way reflects the reality of writing a thesis and is meant as nothing more than a bit of comedy.
It turns out that Amazon is going to sell original fanfiction and let the writers profit from this. I first heard about this on Cortnee Howard’s post over at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, and she didn’t seem to be too happy about it. She wrote that “Basically, they get to earn money for plagiarizing.” I think Courtnee’s comments show a bit of a misunderstanding of what plagiarism is.