american literature

Courting Classic Literature.


(Source: La liseuse by Jean-Jacques Henner)

Hark, something is afoot. Wilt ye lend me thine ear? Oh, do not fret–tis not a matter of great weight, but tis a fullsome subject worthy of note. Friend, I shall address classic literature, of which time hath wrought much to discuss. I beseech thee: trow thine language, reflect upon what thou hast read…

Now that you’re having violent flashbacks to reading Romeo and Juliet in school and scrambling for No Fear Shakespeare, I’ll cease speaking like I have a time machine. (Although, I wish I did have a time machine; I would give the Doctor a run for his timelord money.)

ANYWAYS…

In case it wasn’t clear in mixed-period English, I’ve been delving into classic literature lately. Alright, alright, I saw that flinch; please, just give me a chance to explain.

I studied English and I’m an unrepentant book fiend, but with all of that said, I still didn’t get classic lit until about six months ago. So, after my TAMUCT courses forced me to read enough of it to fill a small library and the lightbulb finally flicked on, I got a bit excited.

Don’t misunderstand: before college I read a few classics. I fangirled over On the Road, loved watching my senior English teacher act out Hamlet, and used a bisexual flag to represent Whitman for “book in a bag.” But, I didn’t stop hiding in the young-adult lit section and learn to love the classics until college.

After all the old English fear, I can now quote Austen and my bookshelves are a bit beyond burgeoning. That’s what brings us to this post.

You see, as a relatively new classic lit lover, I feel that I need to declare my love, rom-com style. Since holding a boombox outside my love’s window is logistically impossible, this blog post is my declaration…and also my encouragement of everyone to be a bit more, shall we say, polyamorous with the lit they love.

Give me just a couple minutes and maybe you’ll want to disappear into Austenland or wish you could befriend a dead poet…

——

In general, there are two objections to classic lit: it is hard to read and it is boring/irrelevant. Well…

It may be difficult at first to get used to older language and styles, but there is a lot buried within all of those thee’s and thou’s.

For starters, Shakespeare has some of the most blatantly sexual and legitimately amusing scenes that I’ve ever read (*cough* Shakespeare, Sonnet 151 *cough*). Plus, Shakespeare has so many brilliant insults and dismissals.Wouldn’t you feel smooth if you called someone a “scurvy companion” (Henry IV, Part 2) or said someone’s “abilities were too infant-like for doing much alone” (Coriolanus)?

Plus, if Eric in Boy Meets World can act out Shakespeare, the least you can do is read some of it!

Let’s also not forget the great moments within other works like Don Quixote and A Modest Proposal though. I mean, Jonathan Swift responded to poverty by sarcastically suggesting that people sell and consume small children…what’s not to enjoy?

But, in the end, if the language is a problem, annotated editions are your friend.

As far as objections to the old-fashioned or “boring” plots in classic lit go, I have to say that is merely a false impression of the genre.

The Great Gatsby is about love, money, and the Jazz Age, with a storyline full of excessive partying, maudlin observations, and tragic deaths.

1984 deals with omnipresent government control, personal freedom, and the past, or essentially being tired of pretending that everything is peachy keen.

The Canterbury Tales follows a group of people headed to the same place for different reasons. Think of it as an old Love, Actually (2003) or Valentine’s Day (2010).

And, let’s not even get that far into The Odyssey. It has war, creatures, and heroism. Plus, most people don’t even realize that dozens of the most popular video games, shows, and movies were based upon it.

Precisely what part of all of that sounded uninteresting and irrelevant? Nothing, it is all amazing! Those books/collections are all amazing!

In essence,

No matter what you’ve previously been told, classic lit is enjoyable, relevant, and quite entertaining. Books transcend time and those within the classic lit genre are no exception. That’s precisely why I’m courting classic lit and calling you all to do the same.

If the Doctor offered to take you to another planet, wouldn’t you go? Of course!

Books are

So, why not take a trip by cracking open a new, old one?

——

Have I convinced you yet? Well, if anyone decides to venture into the classic lit world, or has already discovered it (you sir or madam, are a smart duck), let me know. Perhaps we can have a chat and start a ship war–I’m happily sailing Katherine/Petruchio, Emma Woodhouse/Mr. George Knightley, and Fanny/Edmund. Or, we can just have virtual tea and become Goodreads friends, it’s your choice.

Regardless, best of luck in the world of literature and always remember:

Note:

The introductory paragraph of literary torture–I mean, fun–via mixed-period English was brought to you by this delightful little resource: I Bequeath Thee.

Also, the inspiration for this post and my newfound appreciation of classic literature was this wonderful little lit-nerd tidbit: Disgruntled English Major.

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Some kind of beautiful.

When I was driving home from class and the commissary yesterday I had a lot of thoughts running through my mind.

Did I forget anything on the grocery list?

Nope, I totally got everything. And I bagged everything super neatly. *Pride*

Don’t forget to check for an email about that film class thing!

I need to go pick up those Mayo Clinic library books for Madre. What were the titles again?

Crap, I really need to get better about responding to texts…and I need my phone to actually receive them correctly.

Holy mother of deities, can anyone drive around here? *Road rage!* Get off the road, idiot!

But, at the same time that my mind was going six different kinds of crazy, I was thinking about the place I live in. I was noticing the things that a lot of people complain about or dismiss, and I call beautiful.

You see, it started in my American Literature class.

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After only 3 days of class I already know that my professor is big on relating American Literature to music to art to poetry and to any other idea he thinks up. He also loves discussion and forcing everyone to contribute. (I’ll pretend for a second that my shy side isn’t rebelling in full force.)

Today’s discussion revolved around differentiating between the meaning and the significance of a piece of art, regardless of what form the art may be. So, we listened to John Coltrane’s song “Alabama.”

We gave it significance without any “meaning identifiers” like the time period it was created in or the title, and then we discussed the meaning that Coltrane had intending to convey. Everyone chipped in a comment or two, and accepted the song as meaningful and significant art.

After that, we moved on to other art forms:

Michelango’s “The Creation of Adam.”

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Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”

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Vincent Van Gogh’s “A Pair of Shoes.”

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Picasso’s “Girl With Mandolin.”

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The Amitayus Mandala made by tibetan monks.

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Somehow, my class seemed certain that in each piece of art there was a fluid significance that would persist across the ages, and a meaning that we just didn’t quite know. Everyone was so sure.

But then came the confusion.

People who know me well also know that I adore abstract and geometric art. I myself paint and sketch, but my love of abstract geometric designs began well before I learned to create something on my own.

So, when my class was faced with Jackson Pollock’s “Number 18 1950”, and not a single other person found meaning or significance in it, I was something a bit beyond stunned. I was purely shocked.

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What makes a biblical tale, a historically inaccurate visual of Washington crossing the Delaware, a pair of boots, an abstracted girl with a mandelin, and colored sand more meaningful and significant than any of Pollock’s hundreds of paintings? Honestly, I was on the verge of screaming when my class equated Pollock’s work to children’s play and collaboratively declared that Pollock had simply run a scam.

That’s when I realized that beauty exists regardless of whether we see it. Not a single one of my classmates saw Pollock’s painting as anything but a mess, yet I interpreted it as a portrayal of human emotion and the chaos that involves. My classmates laughed at the idea of it having any meaning, and giving it significance was apparently a radical notion.

Anyways, all of this leads back to the place I live in and I promise I have a point.

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I live in a place where some people stay less than a week and others stay a decade or more. There’s a constant influx of people and you’ll never hear the same accent twice. Late in the evenings, you can hear tank fire in the distance, even if you’re one of those that lives more than 20 miles away. It’s a sterile place–concrete, cement, fences, metals, power lines, old buildings, new buildings, highways, construction, cookie cutter houses, houses from the 60s, dull blue skies, try grass, drought-cracked grounds…I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard it called ugly.

But, there is a beauty here that is just waiting to be noticed.

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In the evenings, when the tank fire is loudest and it makes the windows shake in their frames, you know that there are soldiers out there learning to be strong. And I know that my father use to be out there on that range. Forget the people complaining on facebook, they don’t understand what it means.

In the early mornings, when you drive toward post and see the rush of cars heading in, you know that for these people, the day started hours ago already. And I marvel at being a part of it all.  Forget the people tweeting about the traffic, they don’t understand.

Midday, when the stores are busy, the traffic lights are too slow, restaurants and fast food joints are full, children are at school or a playground, and the rushes on and off post are moving like clockwork, you know that everyone here is finding their own peace. Forget the comments about how ugly this city is and remember that there is something beautiful in all this chaos.

There is strength. There is power. There is something I can’t quite put my finger on but it is some kind of beautiful.

There are awful aspects to this city of course, and there is a lot to debate when it comes to Fort Hood, but every aspect has some beauty to it. The problem is that we have to remember to notice it, and not dismiss everything as quickly as my classmates did.

Beauty is waiting if we just open our eyes.