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Literature and me: nursing the enchantment

July 1, 2011 12 comments

 Usually I don’t write personal posts but Max’s post The Death of Enchantment and its comments have been nagging at me. His post is about What Ever Happened to Modernism, by Gabriel Josipovici, a book I’d never heard of before reading reviews on blogs. It hasn’t been translated into French that maybe why. Two things have been nagging at me.  

The first thing was the answer to my provocative comment stating that for me, literary criticism is cutting hair in small pieces. Someone named Steve replied it’s a self-destructive thought. That bothered me as I don’t think of myself as self-destructive. He was very educational and tried to lead me back to the right path through enlightening readings. And I’m very grateful that he took the time to do it, as I love to learn. It led me to a blog post about Borges I couldn’t understand and to researching Maurice Blanchot on Wikipedia. I came to the conclusion that all these ideas are out-of-reach for me because I lack the academic and cultural background to grasp them. But I’m not really satisfied with that simple explanation and it has a sour taste of defeat I don’t like.

The second thing was when I read the following exchanges. “Read” is a big word. “went through them” is more appropriate. I couldn’t get interested in them despite their obvious intelligence. And I wondered why because usually my curiosity is endless. Plus, I don’t particularly shy away from abstract thinking. Was that because it was beyond my brain’s abilities? After further thinking, I thought not. It’s not that I can’t understand the discussion –I probably could if I took the trouble reading closely and studying a bit, it’s just that I don’t want to. OK, that’s also better for my ego, I admit it.

The truth is I thought it was pointless. The discussion about “modernism” and its status, dead or alive, seemed pointless to me. And that was the chore of the problem. I think these philosophical discussions about the novel, its form, its future pointless and even dangerous for me. Why dangerous?

I have enough of reality at work and in my everyday life with groceries, homework and so on. Literature is my hobby. It’s my enchanted world. I want to ogle at books, I want to be a child, I want to dream. As a child, I never wanted to know how a magician did his tricks. As an adult, I don’t watch films make-overs. I don’t want to know that a painter put that touch of white precisely there to enforce perspective. And I don’t really want to know how a writer created his/her book. I’m looking for pleasure. I want to stare at beauty with bewildered eyes.

I don’t know if what I say is clearly expressed, so I’ll take an analogy. Let’s say I’m looking at a handsome man and think he has a sexy smile. I’m interested in understanding that I find his smile sexy because he has dimples and reminds me of someone I love. It tells something about me and my relation to beauty. I don’t want to see his X-ray and know that he has that sexy smile because his jaw has such a form that it could only end up showing dimples. I don’t want to see the X-Ray because after that, every time I’ll look at this handsome man, the X-Ray will be there, somewhere in my mind, killing the enchantment and altering the beauty, the sensation of looking at beauty.

That’s how I feel about literature. I’m reading for the enchantment. I’m reading for beauty. Therefore I block out everything that could kill the enchantment and spoil my pleasure. According to Wikipedia “Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals.” I leave this study, evaluation and philosophical discussion to others.

I have a childish way of reading and I’m proud of it. Who said I needed to be an adult in every area of my life?

Categories: Opinion
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