Stories are written to be enjoyed, not dissected. Discuss.

As a child I used to proof-read the letters my father sent to his mother every week - initially to make sure I wasn’t duplicating events he’d already written about in my own letter to my gran, but he got so irritated by my verbal red-penning that he sacked me during my O-levels, citing his concern about it interfering with revision So it was no surprise to anybody that I chose to study English Literature at A-level.

However, images I had of floating about the corridors of the school with an Austen in my hand and the works of Tennyson peeking cheekily from my satchel were whipped from my foolish grasp the minute we sat down to translate Chaucer’s  the ‘Nun’s Priests’ Tale’ into Modern English.  And  *blush* the language!  I swear (see what I did there?) I learnt far naughtier words during my English Lit classes than I ever did in the playground.

But my love of Shakespeare – even before he looked like Joseph Fiennes (honest!) -  began to dilute from ruby red to pomegranate pink.  No sooner had the tutor group finished a scene than we were dragged right back to the beginning of the same scene in order to take it apart sentence by sentence; word for word; comma by comma it seemed.  All I wanted to do was read on and see what happened next; this wasn't what I signed up for.  It became wearing, repetitive and dull.

My relationship with Macbeth is therefore fractured; it’s segmented into terms of importance; the parts that my tutor spent w-a-a-y too long dissecting into metaphors, similes analogies and everything in between.  I personally don’t think that Shakespeare was intentionally trying to shoe-horn so many light/dark metaphors into his play that they became minefields for anybody to tread lightly through.  I mean, surely the fact that The Macbeths knifed Duncan in the dead of night was simply because it’s easier to stab someone at night than in broad daylight and not because for the remainder of the play every shadow/ dark/light reference will lead the reader to conclude that this part should be cross-referenced with even deeper suggestions of manic depression and other disorders that could have been present in the minds of the murderers at another section of the play.  Er… hello?  Do we enter into this depth of dissection with episodes of Eastenders?*
*Of course I’m not implying that ANY of Shakespeare’s plays are comparable with Eastenders scripts – but who knows, if he’d been around today it might be something he’d have had a stab at if money was as tight for him as we’re led to believe.

We also had a very *ahem* passionate tutor who used to go on at length about the imagery surrounding poplar trees in a poem (I forget which) and to this day I can’t look at one without imagining a row of erect … fill in the blanks.  But was this seriously the intention of the poet?  Did he really want his readers to have this image in their heads or was sit just that ‘poplar’ rhymed better with…. um…. alright  then, he put them in for the benefit of scan. Or maybe he was just blimmin’ well sitting by some when he wrote the poem. Simples. Actually,  I always had my suspicions about this particular tutor.  We used to take unwritten bets on how many sexual connotations she’d have us scribbling down in our notes every lesson we had with her. And up until A-level English Lit, I’d always presumed Fellatio was going to turn out to be one of Romeo’s mates. Shocked doesn’t go halfway.

So am I doing Shakespeare and English tutors a bit of a disservice?  Did the literary greats REALLY want us to go through their poetry and prose with fine-toothed-combs and make sure we found every subtle nuance of metaphorical trickery they’d intentionally planted within their (what would become) classics?  Or did they just write for the love of the story and the words?

I remember a while back after a friend had read a chapter of a book I was writing, she commented “I like what you did with the Frank Sinatra/My Way references – very clever” and I couldn’t work out what she meant until I read it back myself and realised that yes, there was a tenuous connection if you thought about it – but I hadn’t; thought about it I mean – when I’d written it.  So maybe if we’re writing ‘in the zone’ we’re in such a place that all manner of collective images are drawn on by our subconscious creative minds and somehow end up becoming translated onto the page/screen without our initial intention.

Do you want YOUR writing to bear the stretching, slicing, and probing of symbolic literary dissection?  Do you have an imaginary classroom of students in your mind who are scratching their heads at some of the metaphors you’ve used in your work, wondering how they will EVER get the ten marks for this section that they need to get their UCAS points?

Or do you write for the sheer love of telling a good story?


JO said...

I write because I love it - it's no more complicated than that.

But there are many who dream of being read in 100 years, and if that it happen the story/poem has to say something significant, something that will be equally relevant over time. Like love, death, even poplar trees

Poets work largely in metaphor, and many want people to read on two levels - firstly to take in the music of the poem and then to look underneath that, to see what he/she is really trying to say.

DT said...

This may sound like a cop-out, depends on what I've written. I want my magical fantasy fiction novel, Covenant, to be dissected and deciphered and interpreted. I want people to 'get' the allegories and archetypes and all the subtleties I've woven in there. Similarly, in my conspiracy thriller, Standpoint, I want people to rotate the ideas and clues in their heads as they read. My other work, however, can be taken at face value and enjoyed for what it is.

Sandra Davies said...

What a brilliantly entertaining post! And thoroughly apt final line.

Lindsay said...

I love this post! I have often thought that literary critical analysis goes way over the top. Recently at a critiquing session one reader praised a writer for her clever use of symbolism by using red objects to signify something or other. The writer said, 'Oh, I just like the colour red, It wasn't meant to mean anything!' I bet Shakespeare would say the same.

Debs Riccio said...

Lindsay, give that writer a HUG! :)

Unknown said...

I love to read a story for the story at hand. But then again I like pickles and orange juice. The question is what peaks your interest in the story? For some it may be the mystery of the story itself or the deeper mystery of the hidden things. The most important thing is to enjoy the story in whatever capacity intrigues you.