At this point in my academic career, I’ve written a lot of papers and read (or skimmed) a lot of criticism. I’ve written on everyone from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Virginia Woolf and everything from prose to poetry. I’ve read a little bit of everything about all of these subjects by people with alphabet soup served after their names.
By the end of the semester, I will have written a paper about criticism itself, which will only happen after reading criticism about criticism. Critiception.
After all of this reading, I can only come to one conclusion: people read into things way too much.
I’ve read fiercely feminist interpretations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I’ve read criticism of Hopkins’ poetry that strips him of his faith in God. And now I’ve read heavily eroticised interpretations of Measure for Measure. There’s nothing I haven’t read at this point.
(Never mind. Of course there are things I haven’t read, but the hyperbole is there for comedic emphasis. Deal.)
It’s like people can’t let a story be a story. Of course, the story means something, but most interpretations of literature make wild conjectures that I feel sure would make the authors weep should they read them. The best thing any critic could do is sit the author down and have a chat with him or her about the work’s meaning. Trouble is, most works can’t be called “literature” unless the author is dead, and usually white and/or male. “White” and “male” we can work with, but “dead” is unfortunately non negotiable. Dead guys are powerful hard to have conversations with.
Good literature can stand on its own two feet, it’s true. Good literature can have a life beyond its author. But sometimes a story is just a story. There’s a plot, there’s a climax, there’s resolution. We’re kept on edge from start to finish. We laugh, we cry, we empathise, and we wonder what we might have done if we had been in the main character’s situation.
And that’s that.
Sometimes squeezing meaning from a work of literature robs the story of its independence and its beauty. Yes, the painting may be made up of little dots, but look at the finished product! There’s a big picture every author wants to make, and it takes a lot of subtlety to make the stories as rich as they are. So let that art stand in beauty and marvel at it–not rip it to shreds.
And by “rip it to shreds” I mean “force your own agenda into a work of literature so you can say See?? This old dead guy agrees with me!”
Because that’s just rude.