NOTE: You can view an updated version of this essay here.
This post is for catharsis. Catharsis that I desperately need after a semester with a certain professor so dreadful that I have to get one last essay (albeit unsent) to defend myself. Seeing as said professor grades on whether or not she agrees with our opinions. . .
We read nine books this semester. Or rather, we were assigned to read nine books this semester. I read six (which, by the way, is saying something. A-type personalities like me usually fight through all the books but. . . I just couldn't bring myself to do it this time.) One of the books really touched me. I thought it was well written and interesting, the story of the main character reminded me of parts of my own past. So I presented this professor with the idea that I would like to write the response paper for that particular book as a creative non-fiction essay instead. She approved the idea. I turned in my essay a few weeks later with a one page explanation about how much I had enjoyed the book and how I couldn't bring myself to dissect it as I did other books. I included the following quote:
The elitists are such boneheads they think literature exists to be admired. Wrong. Literature exists to create memories so true and important that we allow them to become part of ourselves, shaping our future actions because we remember that once someone we admired did this, and someone we hated and feared did that.Literature matters only to the degree that it shapes and changes human behavior by making the audience wish to be better because they read it.It becomes importantly bad only to the degree that it entices the audience to revel in actions and memories that debase the culture that embraces it.Next to that, questions of how one literary work influences other literary works, or how the manner of writing measures up to the tastes of some elite group are so trivial that you marvel that someone who went to college could ever think they mattered more.Orson Scott Card, July 29, 2007, "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything"
This is a quote that has stuck with me pretty strongly over the last few years. It's a survival quote, really, as an English major. As someone who really does enjoy analyzing literature, it is important for me to be able to step back and just enjoy reading for the sake of it. After this quote I wrote "This is why I wrote my essay in this particular way. To attempt in some small way to explain why literature is important - not in the way that it can change the world and influence social movements, but in the power it has to change the way that individuals think and behave."
Now, I knew this was going to be somewhat risky. Said professor is, after all, a literary elitist. She is the elite of the elitists. I've never, ever, in my life, ever, met a professor so fully entrenched in literary elitism. So yes. It was a risk. But the book we were reading (Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones) is all about how the reading of Great Expectations changes a young girl and how Mr. Pip as a character means so much to her. I figured that, in spite of the jab towards people who suffer from a rampant case of English Major's Disease, she was a fair enough person that she would see that the quote was actually supporting the lesson taught by the book she assigned in the first place.
Today was our final. I got my portfolio back with the top page of this essay (not the rest of the nine pages of it, which, by the way, I strongly suspect she didn't read) and an A- on it. The only comment is to the side of this quote and it reads in part: "Not true. This is a very silly remark. See if you can figure out why?"
So, literary elitist professor in the BYU English department, here is my response:
No. No, I don't think it's a silly remark. In fact, I think the fact that you can't see how important it is that books touch people on an individual level shows how blind you can be as a professor. You are a smart woman. I respect that. But how else are literary movements or social movements supposed to begin if not by individuals who read a book that is so moving and important to them that it changes the way they behave? Card's idea is not "silly" - it is incredibly poignant. I do not want to be the kind of teacher next year and years following that expects my students to read because finding metaphors and symbols is fun. I want my students to read for the pleasure of it. I want them to read because when you cannot travel physically it is a relief to travel mentally. People refer to "escapist" literature as a bad thing, but I don't know if that is always true. There is a place in this world for literary analysis. Heaven knows I enjoy it. But I don't read to analyze sentence structure or symbols. I read because I can't help myself. I read because reading is more a part of me than my own blood. I read because the characters I love have changed me, because they are my friends. If you are narrow minded enough to think otherwise, then it's a mercy you aren't teaching Junior High. They would eat you alive.
Catharsis over. As for you, Mr. Card, if you happen to stumble upon this at any point by some freak chance, this A- was well worth the satisfaction of knowing that I finally managed to touch a nerve in this woman. And you're completely right. Literary elitists are boneheads. And that particular bonehead didn't comment on my writing at all and gave your words an A-.