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.
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