At some point, I want to do a video on the “meta” side of classic literature—that is, all about what classics are, how I review books, and thoughts on book communities (blogs, YouTube, and beyond). But I am slow these days, so it remains a thought bubble until I can flesh it out more.

One of these thoughts that’s been percolating in the gray cells is the concept of objectivity in classic literature. I feel this especially in my (arduous) reading of Middlemarch. It has a great many merits—these are facts, ones I seek to point out in my multi-part reviews. But that acknowledged . . . I still dislike it. I don’t vibe with it. I am barely enjoying the reading experience. And that is ok!

There is a risk of falling into polarity on this matter. One side might consider literature as something of a science and that any book which adds up in the scale of measurable attributes—shall we say, historical significance, attention to detail, skillful prose, and so on—is universally excellent. Another side might consider literature to be a purely subjective art, in which comparing works to each other is futile and all that can be measured is an individual’s (or at best, a group’s) experience.

I would not prescribe how someone else should read, but personally, I believe reading literature encompasses both sides. Without some objectivity and analysis, you are gliding on the surface of literature, which is a fine place to be (and where I was for my early years), but so much more of the author’s voice is revealed if you dive into the depths. Likewise, if you stay too long underwater, you forget what the sun looks like and how the light gilds the waves and how you felt when you first saw the sea. The scientist must give way sometimes for the poet, and vice-versa.

A work of literature is really just a message from one soul to another across time and space. As open-minded readers, let’s decipher the message to see if it is for us.

5 thoughts on “Of Vibes and Vent

  1. The thought of analyzing literature ‘objectively’ through quantifiable standards and such makes me shudder inwardly. There’s a difference between substance and execution, though. A compelling story can be badly told, and a boring story can be artfully rendered — in theory, at least. I’d think if someone knows how to write beautiful prose, though, they would be able to create a narrative with some semblance of quality.

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    1. That’s a good distinction to make.
      My favorite book from last year was Sachiko by Shusaku Endo. Powerful story but subpar writing, especially for Endo. Still, it’s a book I’ll value my whole life. That’s gotta count for something…

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  2. The idea of objective literary analysis is a complete non-starter for me. Mostly because humans are not and cannot be objective about anything really! [lol] But at the same time the quality of literature (however you want to define that!) is not and cannot be *completely* subjective. Even the ‘rules’ of grammar can be subverted in storytelling. I’d agree partially with Stephen in that the quality of the writing is important but even a well written narrative can still produce a bad (or at least not good) novel. But these are just thoughts of an uneducated reader. I purposefully avoided ‘Lit Crit’ in school because I didn’t want to be told what to read and how to read it. My friends girlfriend who studied Lit @ Uni regretted it saying that it completely ruined her enjoyment of books for years afterwards. She had stopped *reading* books and had started ‘critiquing’ them.

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    1. Cyberkitten, I totally understand that…that’s how I feel, too.
      I have noticed, especially after making videos on YouTube for a few years, that some commenters expect me to be a literary critic vs a mere book reviewer. I enjoy dipping my toes into literary analysis, so I admit I am myself responsible for this perception. Ultimately, though, once it starts feeling like an obligation and a chore, I find myself shirking more and more from analysis. It’s a fine line to tread, and I haven’t been doing it well.

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