Wednesday, December 08, 2004

How this class has influenced me

When I signed up for Dr. Sexson’s Literary Criticism course, the first thought that ran through my mind was, “Oh good, what am I getting myself into? How am I going to be a literary critic?” My second thought was, “Now I will be able to distinguish the difference between good literature and bad literature.” Now, having completed the course, I have found that my expectations of literary criticism have changed. This course has not taught me to decipher the good poets from the bad, but rather, it has taught me to accept literature for what it is and most importantly, it has taught me that there is no right or wrong way to create and evaluate literature.
Over the course, I have learned that it is difficult to compare and contrast one work from another because the value of a piece of work is accepted and responded to differently. Every author that we have covered from Plato to Derrida has influenced my way of thinking. I have agreed and disagreed with some of their ideas, but I have come to realize that the combination of all the critics has influenced my opinion tremendously.
When I first read T.S. Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent, I agreed with the majority of what he had to say. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself reading it again. When I read it for the second time, I became critical of what he had to say. After a third reading, I became passionately angry with him. This passage by Eliot, despite the fact that I disagree with some of his ideas, has made me reach a revolution in my college career. I have discovered that there is no right or wrong way to rank the value of a piece of literature, and as a result I have chosen to write the majority of this paper in response to what he has to say.
Eliot claims, “We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors. We endeavor to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed.” I find this statement to be true. Each piece of work is different from the rest and its difference is the result of the author’s individual uniqueness. Each author’s style is the result of a combination of things: culture, family, childhood, acquaintances, influences etc…all influence the way an author writes. They write, as Eliot mentions, with “their own generation in [their] bones.” Because of these influences, each author’s experiences are dissimilar and as a result, the value of a piece of work should not be measured in comparison with prior works. An author and their work does not have to be compared and contrasted to traditional work in order to be valued and appreciated, but rather their creation should be valued for what it is and how it influences people individually. Therefore, judging a piece of work solely by comparison, oppresses its value.
Literary judgment, I have discovered, is not universal. It is a personal opinion. Since judgment is a personal opinion, it is impossible to say that a piece of work does or does not conform to the set standard. Moreover, a universal judgment, or ranking of a piece of work, is not valid because each critic, reader, scholar, etc…is influenced differently. Therefore, the standards that measure value are created in such a way that it oppresses our sense of evaluation and forces us to compare a piece of work to former pieces, which already contain a fixed value.
An author is aware of the “existing order” of prior works as Eliot mentions, but I do not agree that an author should be influenced by the “difficulties and responsibilities” (Eliot 1093) that have been set before them by prior authors. They should feel free to write without being manipulated with the standard. If they write without this constructed standard in mind, they will be writing from the heart. A work should be original and not created in order to seek the approval of critics.
I believe that originality is created through the expression of feelings and as William Wordsworth said, “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Therefore, poetry, or literature is an expression of feelings-not an “escape”(Eliot 1097). An author is incapable of escaping emotion, because emotion and feeling is part of the foundation in which a piece of work is created. Without emotion and feeling, authors would lack motivation to write. Eliot states, “The emotion of art is impersonal” (Eliot 1098). The emotion of art is anything but impersonal, because emotion itself is personal. As we all know, emotion is un-escapable; therefore, any author who writes composes with emotion in their bones. Writing and spilling your guts on a sheet of paper is a surrender and sacrifice of yourself. Only when you do this can you take of your “straight jacket” (Tompkins ). Writing in the way in which we speak reveals the personal side of who we truly are.
Experience is the root of originality and as Eliot states, “The poet should operate upon the experience of the man himself.” Experience not only influences what an author writes, but it influences their audience as well. When I encounter an author who’s “experience’s line up with mine” as Jane Tompkins would say, I enjoy nothing more. Relating to an author in a personal way makes me crave what they have to say. I read further and further until I feel fulfilled. This fulfillment impacts my perception of the world around me. With this statement in mind, I asked myself a serious question, “Why does literary fulfillment impact my view of the world?”
I pondered on this question for some time and finally I came to the conclusion that literature fulfills me in many different ways. It fulfills me in that I know who I am, I can understand myself and others, and I can make wiser decisions. Literature has also taught me to value the opinions of others, because what they have to say may influence my life forever.




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