Monday, September 27, 2010

Rediscovery & or bear with Me-I am going somewhere with this

In my last post I mentioned my kinship to some of Ernest Hemingway's works, it wasn't always like that.
High School English was my first taste of "Papa", that and many other "classics". I use the term loosely because near as I can recollect I hated them and had no taste for anything I was forced into reading and over analyzing in Mr. Grant's stuffy sophomore English class.
I'm talking Ethan Frome = I loathed this. My synopsis, cheating on your wife in New England then attempting suicide by sled, failing and being cared for by said wife = suck.
I laugh aloud in a favorite movie of mine-GROSS POINT BLANK, when the main character bumps into his former high school English teacher and asks if she is still inflicting all the Ethan Frome damage? No, its been dropped from the curriculum. = hilarious.
The Good Earth as above, this one did nothing for me, reprehensible characters struggling do not make me care.
Great Expectations I had them-but was sorely disappointed.
and finally
The Old Man and the Sea
What I especially recall was Mr. Grant beating into our brains the symbolism of the Old Man, the Fish, the Sharks and the Sea. I have since purged myself of anything he told me in that class, but I do recall the miserable feeling and general distaste for "Classics" it gave me.
As a writer NOW, I look back and wonder at the disservice Mr. Grant did me and everyone else he taught. His dogmatic bombardment of Montana public-school English status quo rather than appreciation for literature, damned me from reading Literature for enjoyment for about ten years.
Yes, I still read but it was mostly non-fiction or comic books.
Yes, you can argue I made that choice, but I'm not here to discuss existentialism and free will, I am talking about the outside stimuli that turned me away from enjoying fiction.
This will probably boil over into being another post, but fiction matters.
It feeds the soul.
We can be exposed to brilliant insights from fictitious character's that will never mean as much coming from the scruffy guy living in the basement with a lawn that desperately needs mowing (i.e. Me)

I turned back to fiction when I decided that if I had to choose anything I really wanted to do it was writing. I always wanted to write but dreamt I would save it for when I was old and grey.
But you can't put dreams in a cage and expect them to soar.
I came back to the classics's on my own to rediscover Literature and KNOW for myself what came before and why it mattered.
And I found I truly enjoyed a lot of classics, that I would have shunned only a few years before-case in point Hemingway.

In a letter to Bernard Berenson, Hemingway writes- "There isn't any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know."

Damn, I wish I had that quote back in Mr. Grant's stuffy sophomore English class.

Thanks to commenter Vicki Rocho for inspiring this rant. Like Jackson Browne said and I'm paraphrasin' "I had to write a blog post to see how I felt about a thing."


Charles Gramlich said...

I reacted very much like you to the classics, and some of them I still hate, although I've picked up Hemingway and Steinbeck since then and enjoyed most of it. I love that quote by Papa. Exactly. Any symbolism I put in my works is really accidental. I also told my English teacher from high school that if I hadn't already been a reader they would have cured me of it.

David J. West said...

Thanks Charles, good to know I wasn't having a unique experience with pompous teachers.

Th. said...


Didn't you tell this story before....?

Anyway, as an English teacher, I have to say who cares? Who cares what the author's intentions were? Once the book is published, it is no longer the author's book, it is the people's book. A book that remains quagmired in the realm of What the Author Meant will never become great literature because literature becomes great when it becomes part of and interpreted by great multitudes of thoughtful people. Screw the author.

David J. West said...

Th-no, I don't think so except possibly in an e-mail to you.

Reading something deeper into Old Man and the Sea is exactly why I hated it.

Don't be bitter.

Lagomorph Rex said...

It is good to see that, other people share my feelings in regards books.

I never liked trying to find symbolism or anything in books during school, I disliked it even more when Mary Shelly's Frankenstein became, not a great science fiction/horror story.. but a story about man's ability to bear children and his enmity towards women which caused victor to make the artificial man.

Ruined it completely, and I some how doubt that Ms. Shelly put that much thought into it over that rainy time in Switzerland.

You can receive morals from a story, you can receive ideas or ideals from a story, but only the reader can see symbolism in the story, and it isn't always accurate.. but once one or two eminent persons agree that it is there, it suddenly becomes canon and all the rest of us mere mortals are supposed to go along with it.

Course, these are the same sort of people who have been trying to tell me that some stripes of black paint on a cloth are supposed to symbolize, the suffering of the working class, or something..

I'll admit, that the only service a Lit teacher did me was in 6th grade when I was given a copy of The Hobbit for my summer book report. The next 6 teachers spent their time trying to make me hate the book and move on to " Real " literature.. which generally just meant something depressing..

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

that is an awesome, awesome quote. and totally true!!! I could turn any classic into a symbol for anything. I figured that out early on as an English major. I doubted very much that the authors ever meant there to be any symbolism. But I could find it. Want Freudism? It's there. Marxism? I could find that too. Anything you wanted.

David J. West said...

Lagomorph-exactly-I heard once that Frankenstein wasn't really Mary Shelley's book at all but Percy Shelley' and Lord Byron's love that dare not be named secret homosexual book!?!
Whatever. People were gettingtoo deep for that one.

Tamara-it could be very easy to read in whatever you want-getting things far afield.

Lagomorph Rex said...

attributing a famous book written by a female to her brother..

If you've never seen the film adaption of Cold Comfort Farm with kate beckinsale. there is a character in that who is obsessed with trying to prove that Branwell Bronte wrote the books, and his sisters claimed credit for them.

David J. West said...

Lagomorph-I haven't seen that, interesting. For all three sisters?