The paradoxical effect of my “liberal” education

I’m having a minor mid-life crisis.  I’ve been a practicing lawyer for almost 23 years now.  I’m quite good at what I do, but I hate it.  And lately, it’s been getting harder and harder to flog myself into getting the work done and meeting the deadlines.  (Although I should assure any current or potential clients reading this post that I do get my work done, and I’ve never missed a deadline in 22.5 years.  I may be bored, but I’m good at what I do and very reliable.)

What I like to do best, of course, is blogging, but that’s not a way to earn a living.  I was speaking with a very wise person about my little career crisis, and he suggested that I write a book.  His first suggestion was that I write a nonfiction book, perhaps an expansion of my “San Francisco in decline” post.  I vetoed the idea, explaining that I’m too much of an intellectual dilettante to put together an entire book on a single subject:  my knowledge base is wide and shallow, and a single subject book needs depth.  Rather than focusing on a single topic, I like to bounce off of things that catch my interest — explaining why blogging is a perfect, albeit financially unprofitable, outlet for me.

My friend pointed out that, while I’m reactive (as opposed to proactive) at a detail level, I do have a fully formed ideology that I apply consistently to every factual scenario that comes my way.  Running with that, he suggested that I write a “novel of ideas.”  I looked at him blankly.  I had absolutely no idea what a “novel of ideas” was.  He explained that Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is the quintessential “novel of ideas.”  Ayn has taken a world view (individualism), and created a fully realized novel centered around the virtue of that ideology.  Her book is not a polemic, filled with wooden characters mouthing political speeches.  Instead, her lead character lives out his political beliefs, for better or worse.  1984, of course, is another example, showing the horrors of the wrong world view.

For the first time since I started hated my work (about 21 years ago), I suddenly though, “Wow, I’ve just heard about something that I really would like to do.”  I have absolutely no idea how to go about writing a novel, since plot and dialog have never been my strong points, but those can be learned.  I can take writing classes or read books on the subject.

My friend suggested that the first thing I should do, even before I start writing, is to start reading.  He told me to ask people I respect what novels helped form their political beliefs.  So, I asked you all that question yesterday.  Your answers stunned me.  First off, they reminded me again of what I already knew:  you are an incredibly intellectual crowd, well-read and thoughtful.  I’m often in great awe of your knowledge and your ability to apply that knowledge to real world scenarios.

The second thing that struck me is how few of the recommended books I’ve read, including any of Ayn Rand’s books.  I can tell you exactly why I’ve read so few of those books:  I had a liberal arts education at very liberal institutions.  The result of this ostensibly liberal education is that I have a strong aversion to vast numbers of writers I’ve read, as well as unreasoning prejudices against writers I’ve only heard of.

The easiest example of the negative effect of my liberal education can be described as “my adventures with Charles Dickens.”  When I was in 9th grade, we read Great Expectations.  When I was in 11th grade, we read Great Expectations.  When I was in my Freshman year at Berkeley, we read Great Expectations. By the third read, I could quote large parts of the book practically by memory and hated it with a passion.  In every class, whether I was 14, 16 or 18, we engaged in two, and only two types of analyses:  we did what I now realize was a Marxist inspired analysis that examined the class system in mid-Victorian England; and we painstakingly went through the book looking for literary symbolism.  At no point did we ever examine the book as Charles Dickens wrote it.  Unlike his Victorian audience, we never got to see a rip-roaring novel about a boy’s life trajectory, the weird characters he meets, the wrong assumptions that guide him, and the decisions he makes and their effect on his life.  In other words, we never looked at why, long before Marxist analysis and symbolic investigations, legions of ordinary Brits anxiously awaited each installment in this exciting cliff hanger.

By the time I was 19, I vowed that I would never again read another word of Charles Dickens.  I hated Dickens.  Dickens was ponderous.  Dickens was preachy.  Dickens was depressing.  Blech.  And then one day, when I was living in England, I found myself quite bored.  Boredom didn’t happen to me often when I lived in England.  I was a student having fun.  I went to parties, and more parties, and still more parties.  But even I couldn’t keep the dancing going forever.  So I asked my roommates (pardon:  “flatmates”), “Do any of you have something good to read?”

Jenny was the only one with an answer (perhaps because she partied less than the rest of us).  “I can loan you David Copperfield.”  It is a measure of my desperation that I even let her put the despised Dickens in my hand.  It was even more shocking that I started to read it — and I fell in love!  Reading the novel as it was meant to be read, as the picaresque adventures of a young man, wending his way through the highly colored, eccentric England of Dickens’ imagination, was absolutely delightful.  It was such a relief not to have to analyze every phrase for its class or symbolic implications.  After David Copperfield, I gobbled Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, and A Christmas Carol.  I was finally able to see Dickens as a first class writer, rather than an intellectual burden.

That pattern, of my hating a writer because of the way he was taught, happened again and again.  Last night, after my husband and I finished watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, my husband turned to me and asked, “Had you read that story?”  I drew back in revulsion, announcing, “I hate Fitzgerald.”  And then I paused.  I realized that I’d actually read only one Fitzgerald book, and that was in an English class.  We read and analyzed The Great Gatsby to death.  As with Great Expectations, we focused obsessively on Marxist class issues and literary symbolism.  Ironically, the one thing we didn’t do was try to look at the novel as it was read in its own era:  as a good story that also described the tension between the controlled 19th Century and the wild Jazz Age.  The kind of close textual analysis we did sucks the life out of everything.  When we were done, I vowed never to read Fitzgerald again, and I’ve kept that youthful vow.  (A vow I’m thinking I might want to abandon now.)

Oscar Wilde got the same treatment.  The only way I can think with any fondness of The Picture of Dorian Grey is to remember the student in my class who, in a desperate bid to impress the teacher with his grasp of symbolism, announced that “Wilde repeatedly describes flowers in the book because he wants to remind the readers of the phallic symbolism of the female sexual organs.”  We can now cross Wilde off the list of writers I ever want to read again.

In addition to turning me defiantly against the classics, the liberal arts institutions in which I found myself kept up a constant drumbeat of negativity about many of the books that you all recommend.  Rand was a boring fanatic, Huxley’s book was a fantasy, Clancy was a right wing techno wacko.  Indeed, it’s amazing to me, looking back, that George Orwell’s books were (and are) still part of the educational canon.  Thinking about it, the only reason I may like Orwell’s books is because their defiant anti-Leftism meant that the teachers couldn’t subject them to a Marxist analysis, and their straightforward writing defied any in-depth symbolic exegesis.  In other words, the teacher’s couldn’t turn them into deconstructionist gobbledygook.

These snarky views about anti-Leftist books even infected popular culture that surrounded me when I was young.  As an example, I was a big fan of Dirty Dancing when it came out.  I was in my early 20s, and Patrick Swayze was so beautiful.  Who wouldn’t be impressed?  So I paid attention to the story — and I certainly didn’t miss the fact that Swayze’s arch nemesis, the swaggering, dishonest stud, Robbie Gould, justified his immorality by informing Baby, and the viewing audience, that he lived his life according to Ayn Rand:

Robbie Gould: I didn’t blow a summer hauling toasted bagels just to bail out some little chick who probably balled every guy in the place.
[Baby is pouring water into glasses for him]
Robbie Gould: A little precision please, Baby. Some people count and some people don’t.
[Brings out a copy of The Fountainhead from his pocket]
Robbie Gould: Read it. I think it’s a book you’ll enjoy, but make sure you return it; I have notes in the margin.
Baby: You make me sick. Stay away from me, stay away from my sister or I’ll have you fired.
[Baby pours the jug of water on his crotch]

Clearly, Ayn’s writing makes people evil and immoral.  You may as well read Mein Kampf, since it will have the same poisonous effect on your soul.

So here I am, the product of a fairly high level liberal arts education, and I hate the books I’ve read, and won’t read the books people recommend.  The process of reading and studying so many of those books was such agony, it was always impossible to imagine that there might be a simple pleasure associated with the actual story the author was telling.  I shied away from those books just as I shy away from certain foods I associate with food poisoning.  (Don’t ever bother trying to feed me scallops.)  And as for many of the writers I might have found interesting, the ones who directly or indirectly articulated anti-Marxist sentiments, I was ordered away from those books, assured by professors and pop culture alike that they had the potential to corrupt my brain and my soul beyond redemption.

I think I’m going to have a lot of reading to do in the next few months, not my ordinary diet of fascinating nonfiction and painfully innocuous fiction, but serious stuff — the heavy intellectual stuff that will help develop my thinking as I contemplate creating a literary world in which my own political ideas can flourish.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Don’t know if you’ve read Rand’s “We the Living,” but IMNSHO it is far better, as literature, than her later works…probably because it’s in part autobiographical.

    I also strongly recommend St-Exupery’s “Flight to Arras”…didn’t list it in the last post because it’s not exactly a novel. The book is about St-Ex’s thoughts during one particular day in 1940, during which he had to fly a particularly dangerous reconnaissance mission, and his dialogue with himself about why he should face almost certain death in a war he knew was already lost.

  • jj

    Give Fitzgerald another shot, too.  Read the unfinished Last Tycoon – but otherwise stick to the stories.  Gatsby is a great book, no question, but what Fitzgerald really did, perhaps better than anyone else in the American literary pantheon, was write short stories, and make of them literature.  (Button is a short story.)  It’s an art form that doesn’t much seem to exist in the popular imagination these days, which is sad.
     
    Sherwood Anderson and Stephen Crane were also extraordinary short-form writers.
     
    Crane is often overlooked because Red Badge of Courage just buried everything else he ever did, but his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is an absolutely terrifying, but gorgeously written story of poverty, seduction, and suicide on the Bowery.  (He wrote it when he was 23, too.)  The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, and The Blue Hotel may both be in the top couple dozen of American stories, too.  They’re masterpieces of slanted narrative, whose influence on American fiction and films continues.  Crane died at 29 – leaving behind five novels, two collections of poetry, and a pile of stories.  (Upon hearing that he was gone, Twain said, “my God – what if he had lived to be forty?”)
     
    You want to see political consciousness in Dickens, there are some anthologies of his stuff that’s hard to find as individual pieces.  One of the best was published by Greenwich House (an imprint of Crown) in 1984.  It’s called The Hidden Charles Dickens, and it’s a collection of short stories, newspaper and magazine articles from between 1833 to 1868.  Dickens looks at life – without blinders – and doesn’t find much about Victorian London that’s heart-warming.
     
    The best advice for the aspirant comes from the King of Hearts, in Alice.  Alice was to testify at the trial of the Knave of Hearts, and she didn’t know how to tell her story, so she asked the King.  He replied with the best advice ever written for anyone with a story to tell:  “Begin at the beginning, and go on until you reach the end.  Then stop.”

  • Allen

    Good on ya, Bookworm. I’ll sign up for a signed copy. As for character and plot, within a political system I would suggest “Dune” by Frank Herbert.  The later books didn’t add much IMO but he did create a “new” universe.

    He explored despotism, free will, self-realization, and each character’s response to the events they were embroiled in.

  • Gringo


    I was finally able to see Dickens as a first class writer, rather than an intellectual burden.
     
    I have read Great Expectations four times, never for school, and enjoy it each time. There is something for everybody, from 8 to 80, in Dickens.
     
    As a kid I loved reading, so by 9th grade I had read a fair number of novels on my own- though I also liked nonfiction. Before high school I liked English classes, though History was my favorite subject. That changed in high school. I hated my high school English classes. My high school English teachers were trying to turn us into junior literary critics. I was not interested in writing as a way to analyze symbolism in The Scarlet Letter, but as a way to express myself.
     
    In retrospect, my 11th grade English literature teacher, who got his doctorate in Shakespeare several years after he taught me, had the right idea. He gave minimal importance to essays on his Shakespeare tests, but instead emphasized questions on details. At the time I did not like that. Years after I took a Shakespeare class in college, and got my only post 8th grade A in an English course by reading each play twice, I finally understood what my 11th grade English was trying to tell us. Just READ the damn plays, and get familiar with them. If you don’t know the details, you can’t discuss the ideas. As further indication that my 11th grade English teacher had the right idea, he assigned more creative writing than others.
     
    One advantage of getting an engineering degree is that you get minimal exposure to social science and humanities as corrupted by the professoriate. Learn it on your own.
     
    I am in a book club that reads “classics.” The book I fell in love with was Willa Cather’s My Antonia. I identified with the people in the book. One reason was that I had family that homesteaded in Nebraska, just like Antonia’s family. Willa Cather describes the land like a painter. Cather also had a fine ear for language. Some of the ways that her Slavic immigrant characters interpreted the English language were just as I remembered Slavic immigrants doing it in my NE hometown. (Some of that has steeped into the way I speak English: tree tousand dollas, if I am not careful.). Cather used a term – “baching it”- that I only heard one of my grandmothers use – not the side of the family that homesteaded in Nebraska.
     
    Because of my time working in Latin America, I am partial to Latin American authors. I think you would prefer the more straightforward narrative of Mario Vargas Llosa instead of the more fantastic touch of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I liked Tomas Eloy Martinez’s literary biographies of the Perons. Isabel Allende’s political stances may at times annoy, but she writes a good story, though her output is  admittedly not of Nobel Prize quality. At least I can read her more quickly in Spanish than I can other authors. Try Paula, if you haven’t read it yet. That is perhaps her best.
     
    For writing a book, I would suggest that you keep doing what you do. As Michelle Malkin wrote Culture of Corruption, why don’t you expand on your Lies of Obama series?
     

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    You need a change in your Epistemology, Book. In brief, that is the field that determines what is true or false. It determines what is knowledge, the epistemology of the theory of knowledge.
     
    So far you have been told that knowledge is reached through reading appropriate material. That’s not true. Knowledge is reached by getting a broad experience of many things, and then crunching them together to figure out what is true or false, and utilizing a proven method to determine what might be considered future knowledge.
     
    <B>Clearly, Ayn’s writing makes people evil and immoral.  You may as well read Mein Kampf, since it will have the same poisonous effect on your soul.</b>
     
    Take this case in point. What Hitler wrote or spoke about was never as crazy as the Left would have liked to portray it as. Evil makes sense, as far as it goes. Otherwise it wouldn’t have the power to control men’s hearts. It sounds good. That’s the point. If you don’t have a correct epistemology, you won’t figure out what is true or false regardless of what you read.
     
    The point of reading these things becomes very simple: you have to make up the foundation of your own mind block by block, because others, master manipulators, can easily shatter your foundations if you had not built up a good bulwark.
     
    Unless it is something you choose to believe in Book for your own reasons, not other people’s reasons, your mind will always obtain weak points. The mortars between the bricks are uneven and disfigured. It is not as strong as it could be. It is not as consistent.
     

    Thus you instinctively react to certain subjects the way you were programmed to act by previous indoctrination. Instead of being able to react with your heart and soul over like or dislike, you react out of a perception of what you thought were your own feelings, but in reality were simply somebody else’s feelings overlaying your own inner heart. Thus your feelings towards specified authors often are not what you would have truly felt, but what you were manipulated into feeling.
     
    Again, such things wouldn’t normally happen if you had a strong wall built from your own inner beliefs and reasonings. But that’s why the Left focuses indoctrination on the young, before people build up any such wall.
     
    The Left’s true strength isn’t in their political election rigging or campaigning. Their true strength is centered on controlling an individual’s inner motivations by distorting ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics.
     

    It is ironic, however. I also thought that you should write a book the moment you said you were dissatisfied with your current career. Funny how that works.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Part of the problem with having young people read classics is that it is impossible for them to think critically about the deeper issues and depths of the work. How long have students lived? How can they compare their life experiences with those that have decades for multiple decades?
     
    A teacher can try to instruct, but this is like trying to teach people using a 2 decade handicap. It is kind of pointless. There’s no point in having people ‘analyze’ the work, because the only thing they can even absorb at this time is 1. the reason the author wrote it and the concurrent biography and 2. what actually happens in the story events.
     
    Also, part of analyzing what is written contains your writing ability. Meaning, you have to be able to write and explain your own ideas in the written word, before you can just read the complex details of others. You see, one is the same as the other, because they are linked. It is sometimes the case that you can comprehend finite details without being also capable of communicating fine details, but that’s very rare. It is also needlessly complicated. Because if you are going to have to communicate these finite and fine details to others, oftentimes you will be required to write about them. So you might as well get used to the idea of thinking while writing. But that is not a skill you learn in a class. That’s a life long skill. Reading comprehension is acquired much faster, however, so that’s why it is more important to have people read, a lot, than it is to have them write about the small things they have read.

  • kali

    Please, *please* don’t write a novel of ideas.
     
    Not deliberately.  Write to tell a story, one with a beginning, middle, and end, characters that fascinate you, and a plot that makes *you* tear up or cheer or feel that you’ve ridden a roller coaster. Your worldview will come out naturally.
     
    Writing classes are a great idea. Check the publishing history of the instructor and see what they write. Stay away from those who write literary fiction until your own fiction voice has developed. You’ll learn a great deal in these classes, but more important, you’ll meet other writers in your area and find the nucleus of a writer’s group: Support, empathy, and common sense feedback on your writing.  Believe me, these will be vital.
     
    The San Francisco Writer’s Conference is next month: http://www.sfwriters.org/pages.cfm?ID=3 There look to be a decent sprinkling of seminars for beginners, not to mention cons can be fun :)
     
    Now  go write  and don’t stop to think about what you’re writing.

  • http://thoughtyoudneverask.blogspot.com/ zabrina

    I am saddened to hear another retelling of the story of how teachers have turned students off to literature. I became an English major because I have *loved* books from the age of 7 or 8, and having read so many of them on my own by scouring libraries long before hitting high school, I remained in love. I realized along the way that some teachers and librarians seek to make literature dull by missing or flogging the point completely–or by seeking to be gatekeepers to the “right” literature at the “right” time for the “right people”–squelching all delight. And it was shockingly clear to me by high school that you never, ever told a teacher you liked Ayn Rand, or you would lose all credibility as an A student (and maybe even as a human being)! I learned to play the educational institution game–but I will always love literature based on my own evaluations, apart (but in many ways gratefully enlightened) by my English lit training. I am saddened that my own kids did not get bitten by the “bookworm” bug, and I keep trying in little ways to fight back in our own schools against the kind of indoctrination you described. I think it is much worse today. I am known as the mom who gives books to kids… I must say I don’t feel very effective–but I think we can be effective if writers like you, Book, and many many more of us, all keep working together in whatever venues we can. Fiat lux!
    Here is a double list contrasting the “100 Best” novels as chosen by the “experts” on the board of the Modern Library vs. “the people.” Note that one list includes many Ayn Rand titles, the other–none.
    http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html
    Ayn Rand’s novels had more impact on the development of my thinking and actions than any other books in my life. I just reread “Atlas Shrugged” this past year, including Galt’s long speech, and was struck yet again how masterful (an prescient) it is.  As novels of ideas, I prefer “Atlas Shrugged” and “We the Living,” two of my favorite books of all time. (It feels good to be able to say that in public!). “The Fountainhead” is very good too, but I found the male-female relationships puzzlingly violent in that book.
    Another set of novels of ideas I have just discovered are the Sparrowhawk series by Edward Cline, setting the stage of what was going on in England and in the colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Cline set out to write novels of ideas set in accurate historical detail and I think he’s done a splendid and enlightening job. I think he even writes better novels than Ayn Rand did (and she was his inspiration in that aspiration).
    I have no doubt you can write good novels of ideas, Book. Are you familiar with the Outlander series written by Diana Gabaldon? She was a mother, wife, and scientist who set herself the project to learn to write romance novels that would be more interesting to her than the run-of-the-mill bodice rippers and she succeeded, by studying writing, studying the market, and doing vast historical research to detail her stories. Her books (and “Gone With the Wind”) are the only “romance” novels I have ever read, finished, and enjoyed.
    Libertarian radio talk show host Neal Boortz used to be a lawyer until he realized he hated being a lawyer and would rather devote himself to his less-lucrative radio show. His wife said, “Go for it if it makes you happy.” May you find the same support in doing what fulfills you. (By the way–hint, hint–it is cheaper to live outside of California!)
    Dickens–I agree, great fun to read. I remember liking with especially fondness “A Tale of Two Cities” and the “Pickwick Papers.”  And Shakespeare IS the man. Talk about a writer of ideas.
    So, you know what you’ll be doing in 2010, then!
     
     

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Baen has a bar and they have had at least 2 up and coming published authors that did nothing in the beginning except post at that forum.
     
    As a gateway to the published world, they’re pretty good, although they only handle specific genres. You should have seen what John Ringo was like before he got an editor. He’s still got that Movie Script thing going on, however, with a lack of exposition, but I heard his grammar was almost unreadable before.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Literature, fiction or non-fiction, expands your horizons. This was very important back when America was still mostly a frontier, and people had to build communities and become what is known as ‘self-taught’. Even though they had hard physical labor, their mind still sought what all of us seek. Enlightenment, diversity, and imagination.
     
     
    In the 20th century, the worthwhile books accumulated over the centuries provide an insight into another frontier. Instead of a physical place, you now reach the frontier of the human soul, of human political harmony or how to maintain civilization. That is an inner frontier composed of human desires and thoughts, rather than a frontier that exists on a geographic locale.
     
    Ayn Rand explores liberty as juxtaposed against Communism. Since she was a great thinker, she had ready acceptance here. But she was also plagued with the price of genius: madness. Few were her intellectual equals. The state of academia and hollywood at that time did not produce such thinkers. The state of American education was already such that the basic elements of philosophy had been forgotten. And for those versed in philosophy, they were more apt to be Marxists than not.
     
    In any other country, of course, she would have been seen as a dangerous malcontent and instigator of crowds.
     
    There were a few specific flaws in her thinking. Unfortunately, nobody at the time was of the caliber to bring such things up, so I’ll never know how she would have answered. But that mostly applies to Ayn Rand the person, rather than the philosopher. Her philosophy is there to be seen by anyone.
     

    But, it is not an all encompassing answer. Meaning, it does not solve spiritual questions nor does it answer the fundamental question of how to secure a nation. Her views were strongly of economic and social worth, but didn’t fit military requirements or political subterfuge.
     
    The villains she crafted were too arch typical in their motivations and too shallow to contain such things as self-deception or great cunning. Her villains were often more worthy of pity than hatred. Her heroes were the ones that I thought were the most accurate reflection of people as they exist. It is true that an entrepreneur cares about their business and thus will continually sacrifice things to the government, like money, so long as they are able to produce, because it is the very act of creation which they are drawn to rather than the money or profit. And such people will often never attack first, and will keep taking abuse from others.
     

    Ayn Rand relied upon the great productivity of the genius to ensure that poverty and crime were eliminated as a threat. That means she herself did not have any policy answers on this front and the ones she had, were slightly unrealistic. She counted on others, those with the ideas, to solve these problems if the system could be made to allow them to do so free of defect or punishment.
     
    This naturally allows for military genius, economic genius, social genius, and philosophic genius to come out, but she did not have the answers specific to policy. She was not a politician.
     

    Her position as a philosopher is very important because ideology should not just belong to the Left. They have been bolstered through out the centuries by the concept of an idea, a standard of good/evil juxtaposed against a standard of beauty. To confront such a thing, we also need an equally strong image of what world we are trying to create. But to do so without understanding philosophy is very unstable. Ayn Rand does people the service of forcing them to think of ordinary life affairs based upon the prism of philosophy: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, aesthetics.
     
    These are the tools which can be used by any individual to explore their world and harness the raw potential. It is not something Americans were supposed to learn about, so sayeth the insidious Left.
     
    However, it is also true that ideology is not enough by itself. You need something else: wisdom and virtue. You cannot just have the right idea and an intention to further those ideas, but you also have to be right about which course of action you are taking. Those two things are not the same thing, and Ayn Rand had nobody she saw as an equal who wanted to tell her that. The problem with being a genius is that you cannot find many peers. But humanity is such that most people are average, not extraordinary. It distances the special from the people.
     
    If you look at the lives of other authors, you can learn about what they lived through which inspired their works. Don’t think badly of yourself, Book, because you haven’t read a list of books. What’s important is what is in your head, not what is left unread. Books are only a short cut as a way of providing usable information or lessons on wisdom. If you already have such, you don’t need the book itself. But it is also true that one can learn much, even from an author that did nothing but lie. For it is the formation and artificial construction of words itself that can be observed. Even if the constructed work is a lie or designed as a mockery or a false image, you can still learn about what is true from the shadow of such.

  • March Hare

    DD#1 had an English teacher in 11th Grade who loved The Scarlet Letter, so much so that DD#1 complained that she wished they could just read the story!
    DD#2 is now in 11th Grade (different school) with an English teacher whose focus is just that:  reading the story.  He doesn’t assign a lot of homework.  The students read for a bit in class, then discuss the ideas in the novel.  She actually enjoys what she is reading–and is reading good novels.
    Although I’ve been a voracious reader since I was six and a compulsive writer almost as long, I chose to study biology in high school, much to my father’s dismay.  My argument was that I knew I would read Shakespeare on my own, but I was much less likely to study chemistry and biology.  I don’t regret my decision–especially taking a class on the poetry of Robert Frost, where, according to the visiting lecturer, everything was related to Frost’s sexual inhibitions.  (And here I thought a poem about a witch was… about a witch!  What was I thinking!)
    The more I hear of the experiences others have had with English/Liberal Arts professors, the more I think my decision was the best for me.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    “a class on the poetry of Robert Frost, where, according to the visiting lecturer, everything was related to Frost’s sexual inhibitions”…seems to be a lot of this among the professoriate, especially among those who teach literature.

    Reminds me of Arthur Koestler’s comment: “The English have sex on the brain, which is a very unsatisfactory place to have it.”

    Probably unfair to the English, but maybe not to literature professors as a class…