Sunday, April 19, 2009

Problems of Literature (Part 1)

There are, I am certain, countless reasons that one might amuse oneself engaging in the conceptual endeavor to make clear to oneself or even, if blessed with greater ambition, to a larger audience, the complex process by which we imbue documents which we commonly call literature with layers of meaning that are beyond the obvious ones that present themselves in the initial process of reading. We must assume, first of all, that such is the case with average readers in the course of everyday experience, rather than such an experience being the soul purview of specialists in the field of literature where scholars, armed with excessive and intentionally complex theoretical frameworks, create meanings in the interest of some buried agenda which may be constituted as important in the broadest sense but which bears little resemblance to a sensual experience of reading. We can make this assumption, I assume, based upon the fact that it appears to be a common habit of the majority of readers to recognize, at least at a minimal level, the existence of so-called ‘sub-texts’ which they can, if only in the simplest terms, present to others and discursively redeem if called upon to do so. This is not, of course, to suggest that every ‘average’ reader takes the part of some scholarly critic over what they perceive to be their own experience or the author herself, whose intent continues to be championed by readers and critic alike. But even if there persists a disturbing weakness of the imaginative power in the majority of readers and writers, there continues to persist a simple habit of textual obfuscation which relates to a perceived ‘meaning’ emanating from a fixed document. In simpler terms, people read literature as though it contains some fixed meanings which are inherent in the text and which they, through a ‘proper’ or ‘thorough’ understanding, can illuminate.

I consider the most obvious possible motivation for such a widespread habit of reading to be found in the general desire for sociability. Literature’s ability to effect or even ‘create’ states of heightened emotions which are essentially assumed to exist at a universal level (or to be actually the same at all time and in all places), feeds an apparent drive toward a comfort to be found in common experience. Thus we are at once inspired by some inherent need to assert our unique experience as individuals and readers, but simultaneously compelled to find an underlying, one might say structural, commonality inherent in our existential condition. One might assume that such competing sympathies would generate an intolerable degree of cognitive dissonance. Subligation on the one hand and individual assertion on the other, should create a state of irretrievable disturbance.

If this is so where does this disturbance lie?

No comments: