I have only about 100 pages left of Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name, but I figured today would be a good day to write a first entry about the book and my impressions about a specific aspect of it. I’m off work today (it’s a holiday in Ontario) and I’m sitting comfortably on my bed, in my oversized University of Toronto hoodie (You’ll see just how ironic this is soon…), reading at a slow and leisurely pace and watching the sun glimmer on the snow outside my window. I’m in a contemplative mood again, and so I think it’s definitely time to write about an aspect of Goldman’s work that spoke to me from the moment I reached page 153, where I found this quote:
“[Aura had] spent her first semester at Columbia taking classes that particularly required her to learn a new language – critical theory…”
Okay, I’ll give you all some context about why I felt deeply connected to Aura when I read this sentence. If you’ve read the other pages on this blog (specifically ~About the Girl with a Green Heart~), you know that I felt pretty disillusioned during my Master’s degree; what you don’t know is that my annoyance with academia came from all the darn critical, theoretical literature I was being forced to read in every single class (not to mention the one class that was entirely about critical theory and didn’t have a single novel on the syllabus)! Honestly, I do not and will never love critical theory…it is just too dry and boring and technical for me! If I wanted to study science, I would study science…and I have never ever ever had the instinct to dissect a fictional text in such an objective, mathematical manner…it seems crazy and counterintuitive to me in every way! Sure, I respect Foucault and Derrida (I mean, they’re geniuses and I’m not even going to try to comprehend their works) and I actually do enjoy some of Roland Barthes’ ideas. But I have no interest in applying every single theory of a particular academic to the work of my most favourite author. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Charlotte Brontë or Shakespeare or Milton would’ve given much thought to what such-and-such literary theorist from such-and-such university would one day say about their texts. And I really do believe, at the core of my green heart, that obsessing over critical and theoretical applications takes the joy, pleasure and romance out of reading any piece of literature.
Okay, so after that rant, you can understand why I found my MA a little less than inspiring. I wasn’t altogether thrilled about stifling my emotions and making sure that every single claim I made in a paper was backed up by pages and pages of critical theory. Come on, doesn’t the academic world want to produce anything unique these days?
Apparently not. And I think Goldman’s Aura really senses that too. I have more evidence than just that one quote:
“Aura was discovering in those days that she wasn’t like the other grad students, ideologically prohibited from considering the person and mischief of the author.”
“…during one of their thesis meetings, [Aura’s professor] said, Oh, Aura, really, you are still so innocent. We have to get rid of this naïve love you have for the literary text.
The love of literature isn’t innocent or naïve, thought [Aura].”
Obviously it’s gratifying to read passages like these and realize that I’m not alone in my frustrations. I cannot understand, I will never be able to wrap my mind around why it is so wrong to LOVE characters, to try to get at and dialogue with their creators. I just don’t see why the academic world is so afraid of passion and feeling. And I feel that Aura struggled with this very dilemma.
Would I be doing my PhD right now if someone could guarantee that I wouldn’t have to read another critical text? Probably. I would definitely be doing it if I had gotten through my MA with a more positive attitude and hadn’t been challenged for having emotions about the novels I was reading. Don’t get me wrong, I am so proud to have a Master’s degree, and a part of me still wants to achieve the highest level of academic distinction. But I’m not going to reduce my friends, the characters I have grown to adore with all my (green, green, GREEN) heart to archetypes or pawns in theoretical formulae. I can’t do it – I don’t want to come to hate books through studying them!
So what’s next for me? Many people have been asking me this lately, and I think it’s time to arrive at an answer. I love my job at the moment, taking on new tasks and roles (that’s right, a lot can change in a month and my attitude is much more optimistic than it was when I wrote my first personal entry!), and I’m not in any position to question that. Because I didn’t love my MA all the way through…and, to be frank, at this time last year, I really didn’t even like it at all. So I’m going to do what I’m loving now…until I can make a case for the fact that working toward a PhD wouldn’t require trampling on my love for the sentiments evoked by the written word. And Aura had her own answer for the question people have been asking me, as well:
“I wish to be me. I am not me when I am an academic. I am not an academic nor will I ever be.”
Take that [insert name of critical theorist here]!
Girl with a Green Heart (…and, okay, a Master’s too!)