Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: Introduction

Reading literature skillfully is a complex and crucial endeavor but Thomas Forster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor makes it lively and entertaining. In an accessible and non-academic prose, Foster creatively engages a variety of genres of literature (novels, short stories, plays, poems, movies, song lyrics, and cartoons), focuses on diverse literary models (Shakespeare’s plays, Greek mythology, fairy tales, the Bible) and enlists some of the major narrative devices (form, irony, paradox, plot, symbol, simile, metaphor, among others) to make reading of literature a gratifying and educational experience.

Please join us on Brooklyn Book Talk and share your approach to reading as we explore this widely acclaimed and insightful guide to literary education.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if there are any academic answers to the complex problems of reading and interpreting literature. Some of the highly competent literary theorists such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Fredric Jameson, and Paul de Man have proposed completely different models of interpretation; Schleiermacher takes interpretation as historically informed grammatical explication and as psychological identification with the author; Jameson, on the other hand, stresses an elaborate three-phase process of interpretation focused specifically on ideology critique of social contradictions, class antagonisms, and historical stages of social development manifested in texts; and Paul de Man instead emphasizes interpretation as a mode of exegesis wherein the reader's rewriting or restaging of the text replaces the original with an interpretive allegory and hence becomes a misreading. How is one to judge which way of reading or literary interpretation is the most valid one. Besides, there is not even consensus on what is literature let alone how to interpret it.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to literature, people often read what they love to read. How can they be genuinely critical about what they love already. Even if we try to be critical, it will be more of rationalizing rather than rational. Freud noted this phenomenon and called it over-estimation of the object we love, the idea that object of love is imbued with extra value, with superlatives, even with perfection, as a way of ensuring that the lover is justified in loving, and stays in love. Try arguing with a lover of Bible, Geeta or Quran, and you will see what Freud meant. Before one can interpret literature critically, one has to deconstruct his or her own cultural and personal conditioning.

Anonymous said...

Interpretation of literature is not unlike interpretation of dreams. According to Freud, a dream is a disguised fulfillment of repressed wish. When we look at how readers of different cultures (reader-response theory) interpret the same literature, one can see the power of repressed unconscious wishes, which get “projected” on literary interpretations.

Anonymous said...

Before reading this book I was of the same opinion about reading what I love to read. I did not understand how someone can go into the depth of the story and be critical of it because for me reading is something I enjoy not analyze and criticize. How Professors do it was beyond me. That is, until I read this book (or some parts of it) and I realized that at an unconscious level I have always been doing exactly that. Foster has talked about readers wanting a mix of strangeness and familiarity in the story and that is exactly what I find myself secretly wishing for whenever I pick up a new book. I am a huge fan of Greek mythology and so I have read a number of books on the subject. Rick Riordon's 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' infuriated me at first because it was based on the Greek myths I've been reading since I was five years old but at the same time it was so radically different! Distorted, in my eyes at that time. After reading for a bit though, I got comfortable with the idea and started enjoying the strangeness in the familiar story.
As Foster said,
‘There’s only one story. It’s always been going on and it’s everywhere around us and every story you’ve ever read or heard or watched is part of it.’
Now that I understand what that means I am facing a new dilemma! Isn’t there any honest to God, true creativity? Everything is inspired by something, then where did this all come from? Where did this begin? How did this begin?

Nomi said...

To see thought move from literature to metaphysics in the same breath, is indeed delightful. Archeologists say that human mind is originally a literary mind before it became a reasoning mind. Literature (Homer, Bible, Quran etc) preceded science by centuries.

But where did it all begin? Big Bang of Physics, or Genesis of Bible, or Ra'd (The Thunder) of Quran, or the Unnameable Tao of The Tao de Ching etc.

What is considered "revealed" or "revered" literature, perhaps has some answers to your question but to be persuaded of "truth" in revealed or revered literature is a leap of faith or a function of conditioning, and not a matter of reason.

Hence, the mimetic, expressive and didactic theories of literature should always be contextualized in terms of reader and culture. Specificity of self and the world is job 1 in interpretations of literature.