Arguing with critics…in my head

I’ve been reading Terry Eagleton’s How to Read Literature along with the students of the class I am co-teaching for the English department. (Because I don’t have time to read the whole thing in one go.) I’m kind of glad that students can’t see me reading Eagleton. I’d be setting a bad example. At one point in the second chapter of How to Read Literature, on character, I called the author a berk in my margin notes. (The man does not understand Othello at all.) I called him all sorts of names out loud—not in class.

The point of How to Read Literature, as I understand it, is to give readers a tool chest for literary analysis. There is a reason there are so many critical lenses for readers and scholars to use. Different texts make more sense if you use a psychoanalytic approach or a feminist approach or a deconstructionist approach. So far, so good. What I had an issue with as I read Eagleton mull over character was the fact that he favors some tools over others. He prefers his Marxist hammer (get it?) over his psychoanalytic screwdriver (I had to go for a naughty pun because of reasons). Eagleton writes about Othello, Sue Bridehead, Jane Eyre, Clarissa, and others. But I only agreed with a few of his arguments. And my marginalia shows it.

For me, reading critics is not a relaxing experience. I end up yelling things at the page or writing insults in the margins. I’d try to publish papers about my opinions, but you can’t get through peer-review if you call your opponents morons in so many words. (Although you can still get published when you swear at the journal publishers, apparently.)

I do hope that by arguing against Eagleton (in family-friendly language) during class every now and then, I can encourage the students to question the experts as they do their research. They need to learn that, if they can build a strong argument, they can contradict critics no matter how many letters they have after their names.

This feels like a disjointed post, but it was cathartic for me. I feel better now.


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