Imagination vs. imitation of reality.
Daumier vint un jour trouver un voisin de campagne: « J'ai besoin d'un canard pour une lithographie, mais j'ai oublié comment c'est fait. Peux-tu m'en montrer un? » L'ami le conduisit à la mare au fond de son jardin et, comme Daumier s'absorbait dans la contemplation des canards, l'autre lui demanda: « Veux-tu un carnet et un crayon? » « Penses-tu! Je ne peux pas dessiner d'après nature!» Enfin, l'image des canards gravée dans son esprit, Daumier prit congé. Et la semaine suivante, le Charivari publiait des canards signés Daumier, d'une vie et d'une vérité saisissantes.
—Simon Leys, Le bonheur des petits poissons, p. 27.
| sharris [at] english.umass.edu
a number of resources to help you find employment during and after your
B.A. Your advisor will also assist in this, if you ask. Check out the
is more than entertainment. You want pure entertainment? Go bowling.
Read Steven King. Neither is literature a sack of facts that you
brain (that's the wrong metaphor). In practical terms, literature read well helps to
develop habits of judgment, argument, and intellect. A literary
consequently, comprises not merely familiarity with a set of ideas,
but a methodology. This methodology is applicable to the fields
law, politics, and business. It is also the
heart of advertising and politics.
of this, obviously, is necessary. As Governor (later Senator) Zell
Miller of Georgia once said, "Who in his right mind would want to go
into debt for the privilege of reading Beowulf when he can make
$30,000 a year in air-conditioner maintenance right out of high school?" (Massachusetts Turnpike cops make an average of $150,537.00 per year, and Pike toll collectors average $41,582.00.) Car,
house, job, and cable t.v.--you don't need to read Beowulf for
for all the talk of practicality and common sense, most people aren't
practical when they make decisions. Consider relationships. When we
contemplate relationships, we don't check actuarial tables, demographics,
and divorce statistics to gauge chances of success. But wouldn't it
make sense to do that? We do it for life insurance, why not marriage?
And if common sense works so well, why the high divorce rates and
illegitimacy rates? (Humans may be rational animals, but we rarely
act that way.)
we seem to understand relationships through fictions, according to narrative
models transmitted primarily through stories (storybook knights and ladies,
romances, and television dramas). Imagination, not actuarial tables, drives
the lives of most people. When we wonder about our futures, we deploy
a logic learned in storytelling--we imagine a beginning, a significant
middle, and a conclusive and meaningful end. When we think about villains,
we employ models garnered from the evil characters, both great and small,
of song and story. In fact, we assess each new experience according to
increasingly complex syntactic, narrative, and semantic models we take
from stories. It is often our inability to find sufficient models for
current experience that creates the tensions which drive us to
seek out new literature and new art--writers and artists offer people
new if vague ways of making sense of the world around them.
itself is built out of metaphors, implications, and narrative
formed and manipulated by successive generations of writers and artists.
What was novel for Shakespeare is now old hat to us. Metaphor
idiom. Notwithstanding the distortions of metaphor and cliché,
language is still the primary tool we use for dissecting the world.
Some argue (wrongly) that language actually makes the world for us.
But we live in this world with language, not because of it.
(Otherwise, you'd never know what you wanted to say until after you said
it!) To study literature is to study the most compelling language
as it dissects
literature trains us in cognitive models by which we live, function,
and prosper in the world.
this example (adapted from the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson):
Mr. Jones is having trouble in a relationship with Ms. Smith. Ms.
Smith claims Jones is refusing to go to the next stage in the relationship.
They argue about where the relationship is going, where it's been,
how it's progressing, and so on. Now consider the tired metaphors
they are using: going, progressing, stages. If you think about this
literally, they are not really speaking about a relationship at all,
but about a journey. The relationship starts somewhere,
it goes along, passes certain stages (think "stage
coach" here), goes off in the wrong direction,
comes to an end. Any argument they have is therefore subject
to the logic of journeys. And the success of their relationship
may depend on how closely they live up to the demands of this logic.
But are relationships really journeys? Do they really occur in stages?
Smith and Jones have been constrained by a cliché to think
about relationships in a certain way, and the logic of their metaphor,
more than the facts of their relationship, drives their future.
it's true you can live your life thinking about relationships as journeys,
you can lead a richer life with a larger and subtler metaphorical
toolkit. And it isn't just relationships that are at stake. Loyalty,
honor, duty, truth, faith, anger, family, community, race, gender,
freedom, self, nature, law, justice, thought--all of these are articulated
according to dominant metaphors which develop from an inherited literary
and artistic tradition. To read Shakespeare is not only to
appreciate superlative craftsmanship, but also to understand
our inherited ideas about villainy, indecision, wrath, and so on.
Facility with these metaphors, with their implications, and with the
logic they demand prepares you to be persuasive and to use language
adroitly. In a market that prizes information and its uses, this is
a very, very marketable skill.