Sunday, November 15, 2009

how/why we read

In an overall observation of what a great deal of literary criticism seems to highlight is the recognition of the self in relation to the reading experience and what one will take from it. The ‘analysis and interpretation’ of widely read literary works will vary according to the individual. Gender, race, age, religious affiliation, sexuality, socio-economic status, life experiences, and so many other aspects by which we measure our identities serve to create the why and how we read the way we do. And subsequently, it is our identities and life experiences that determine, to a great extent, why and how we react to what we are reading or what we make of what we take away from it. The circumstances of our identities are not completely chosen. While we may dictate certain aspects of our lives, many are put upon us at birth and are, therefore, an instance of our birth. Identity is not something that one may ever truly step out of whether or not one attempts to in order to read from another perspective. The identity of an individual is always present and always working.
The articles by duCille, Harris, and Gates, Jr. all grapple with the authenticity of Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. But as duCille mentions in her article, “all criticisms are local, situational.” This is to say that even though The Color Purple is widely considered to be a great literary work that is a statement of African American life during this time period, criticism is subjective. Though many praise the work, many do not-Harris certainly shares her feelings of uneasiness with the work. But the reasons for why some people praise the work and some reject it may be shared; rather, it is the individual that determines how the work will be perceived.
Gates, Jr.’s work stresses the importance of getting at truth in literature, but truth may be subjective as well. If the artist has a social responsibility as the Gates, Jr. article aptly suggests, what is he or she to make of this responsibility when it is coupled with one’s artistic freedom? I do not think that art ought to be a reflection of some definitive truth because although truth is deemed universal, how universal is it? Everyone reads history differently. There are many truths that are clear, but there are just as many that are obscure. The facts of a story or of a written work may not be true at all, but they must be regarded as truth in relation to the work, this is part of the artist’s freedom in the creative process- to express what he or she is trying to convey to readers.
Despite the truth offered by a work, authorial intent often tends to get lost once a piece circulates in public. duCille recognizes that “texts have a way of becoming what we say they are.” But when a work such as The Color Purple is considered controversial, then it may not clearly become anything. Instead, it is what the individual makes of it. The silence, the abuse, the negative portrayal of men is all there, there is no question as to what is found in the novel or in the way it is written; but what people disagree on concerns the affect that the story and the writing has on readers. But since there is no possibility of stepping out of one’s identity, there is no right or wrong answer in regard to criticism. The perception of a work is then subjective and very personal. Varying interpretations may both find valid points in a work, but it is up to the individual to make what he or she will of the facts. I am not surprised that this novel is so controversial, any good work usually is.

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