What Next?

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]!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart (…and, okay, a Master’s too!)

my green heart

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4 thoughts on “What Next?

  1. This is how I felt when I was doing my undergrad in Literature. The joy of reading and writing went away during my senior year. I purposely avoided talking in class and most of my classmates because discussing why an author did so and so and why this critic thought such and such was a bore. And felt odd, like I was somehow tainting the story and characters.
    There was, however, a story I did enjoy discussing, Notes From the Underground by Dostoyevsky. Ever read it? The main character, whose name I can’t remeber now, was a head case. Contradicting and twisted and fragile and boastful. Made for an interesting combination. He stuck in my mind because I associated myself with him. Not his traits per say but his contradicting personality. Black and white.
    Also, having looked over some of your other posts, I enjoyed that you called yourself a victorian at heart. Curious as to why. That period resonates with me too. Though I’m in no way a fan of the socio-political BS against women during that time. Yet oddly there is a tragic allure to the feelings of being stuck somewhere, to having to fight, the quiet life of wealthy women who learned piano and writing letters. I first came across the victorian era when reading gothic literature and Jane Austen during my early teen years.

    • I’m so glad that you felt the same way during your university years…not to say that I’m happy that anyone would feel this way, but (as I said in my post) it is strangely reassuring to know that other literature lovers aren’t content with the way literature is represented in post secondary institutions. I haven’t read any Dostoyevsky actually, but I have always wanted to, so I will definitely make note of this story — you may see a review of it here soon! 🙂
      And as for why I consider myself a Victorian at heart: I think I am passionate about how simple and straightforward those days seemed to be. I agree, there was a lot of socio-political tension, and as an opinionated woman I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed every aspect of the times…but I do appreciate the fact that people acted with decorum, that there was less technology to distract and distance people (in a weird way, I think technology is driving us apart as a society)…and I have always thought that I would love nothing more than to spend my days reading, walking, wearing flowing dresses and throwing dinner parties. Obviously that’s an idealized notion of the times, but I also recognize it as a moment in history when women were coming into their own, and that fascinates me!
      Thank you again for reading and for all your meaningful comments! I really appreciate it!

      • Thank you for your blog and replying to me. I came across your blog purely by accident, not related to literature at all. I’ve grown discontent about my wardrobe choices and was looking up articles on fashion and styles. Out of curiosity I looked up “how to dress like a queen” after remembering how much I like the fashion on Reign (glad you like it too) and voila! There you were, with your red lipstick and black summer dress. You do indeed share similarities with Mary. Like her, you’re a winter type, which means you can pull off vivid colors (based on hair, eye and skin tone). She is a favorite character of mine. Her wisdom, honesty, intelligence, courage and assertive personality. Definitely a warrior at heart. Who is your favorite character from the show and why? Oh, I also began to like Narcisse. I like how his name means exactly what he is, and how clever, resourceful and unpredictable he is. Francis is foolish for allowing such a character to live. You don’t manipulate all your life to just one day stop because a king you hate asks you to. Tss.
        On the topic of the victorian era, I agree that reading and wandering in gardens and throwing dinner parties does seem great. A simple life. Little technology available. But I would grow restless if that’s all there was. Most likely dress up like a man and hit the seven seas.
        As for women coming to their own… Very slowly. I much prefer this time, our time. Still much progress to be made, many technological advancements. And it is up to every one of us to decide how and when we want to use it. Personally I love the internet – a portable library.

      • I am so overwhelmed and happy to hear that you stumbled on my blog in that way! It brings me such joy to know that the little posts I write for fun have made their way into the world and have found a readership…so thank YOU for your comments and for joining me here!
        I actually like the idea of dressing up as a man and travelling the world as well — after reading Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I did have the strange idea that I’d like to assume a male identity for a little while and see how my world could be different…it would definitely be a fun and enlightening experience!
        As for Reign, I adore Mary, because I agree that she is such a strong and resilient character…I admire that about her and I find the show really motivates me to be strong (and to act a bit like a queen) in my own life. I also really like Catherine as a character (perhaps because I grew up watching Megan Follows play Anne in Anne of Green Gables and so have a particular fondness for her) — I think her loyalty to her family is fascinating, especially considering how passionate and ruthless she is about protecting them. Her motivations for her actions are quite interesting to me.
        And I agree that the internet is great for giving us access to so many literary texts…but nothing will ever feel the same to me as holding a new book in my hands and cracking that spine open! The best feeling in the world!

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