Being off campus during J-term has given me a lot of time to reflect on my major, so here are 5 rules I have learned thus far in 2 years of undergraduate studies.
1. Don’t trust your narrator.
Narrators are crazy. In Edgar Allen Poe’s Narrative of Arhur Gordon Pym, we don’t know if Arthur has been part of a deranged aquatic mission or if he’s still lying in bed. In Kafka’s Metamorphosis is this guy really a bug? Maybe he’s crazy? Maybe he’s just realizing that the inner beast that lies within all of humanity ultimately dies when it attempts to reconcile its inner reality with actual existence. In Plato’s The Cave, people are blinded by their first confrontation with the sun. The blazing inferno of light that is the “sun” launches a billion purple dots in their pupils and you expect them to understand the difference between daylight and a bad tab of acid? They don’t know they’re characters in the greatest philosophical metaphor of all time, they’re consumed by their first experience of consciousness. I know, I know. You say: just play them “blinded by the light” by ELO, but you have GOT to understand that the narrator is just as susceptible to personal, subjective experience as you were when Jimmy didn’t text you back, and you said, that dick he’s cheating on me, but according to his perspective, he just wasn’t looking at the phone.
2. The author is making fun of you.
You think you’re so smart reader, you can pick up on the resplendent beauty of words and understand all the archaic references, but you are WRONG. You are part of the academic elite, and this author’s punking you. nice try reader, but ultimately the author will have the last laugh. That’s literary privilege bitch.
3. Literature doesn’t have a definition.
Nabokov said that fiction didn’t just form when some guy saw a wolf, and cried it out to save an entire village from the apocalypse. Fiction was formed when he turned around and realized there was no wolf: Voila. Fiction baby. But WTF, you’re thinking, fiction is just lying? No, it needs a structured narrative. Well what about that poem I wrote to the boy who sat at the back of the bus in 7th grade. Ok silly 7th grade Mackenzie, it needs a point, it needs to attempt some transcendence from your own mediocrity. Ok fine, how about Joseph Conrad: the appeal of the artist is to all the innumerable lonely hearts. Well jeez, how about Britney spear’s “Lucky?” Tell me that didn’t appeal to my lonely heart? This point will hopefully be concluded next semester once I finish my intro to Literary Theory class. but literature, that slut, will probably elude me again.
4. Contextualize it
Without understanding history we will naively reproduce whatever has already been said. This is terrible. If Stephanie Meyer was a Literary Studies major Twilight would have never happened.
5. Literature= Sex.
Literary critic Roland Barthes once said that the chief objective of literature is “la petite mort” otherwise known as the orgasm. He applied this awesome metaphor to the reader experience, which resembles the spiritual release that accompanies orgasm, and the short period of melancholic transcendence as the result of the expenditure of “life force.” If you’ve read Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, and after the climax, sat there tingling looking out the window and contemplating your own mortality, you have graduated sigma cum laude in literary studies, and you didn’t even need Cosmopolitan.
And that is my experience of literature so far. I look forward to my junior year, and debunking everything I’ve learned so far. $50,000 may buy you one major, but the internet buys them all.