For whatever reason, autumn and literary theory inexplicably keep linking together in my life. Seven years ago, I took my first lit crit class as an undergraduate, and I knew I was in for a doozy of a semester when our professor introduced the subject on the first day by saying something along the lines of, “It’s going to feel like you’re drowning for the first month or so of this class, but don’t worry, I’ll keep throwing all of you life lines as we go.” Regardless of whether or not that is what she actually said, that is certainly how it felt.
Literary theory is one of those squishy subjects that can never quite be pinned down–although that probably depends on which theorist you’re discussing–so it makes sense that the subject is generally recognized as difficult. At a graduate level, it is still very difficult, and now I feel the pressure to actually know what is going on in class discussions rather than fake like I did the reading (sorry, Dr. DD) and try to pick up the gist of the material from my classmates.
We discussed Derrida’s views on post-structuralism/deconstruction in the last module, and half of the time, I felt like I was reading in an extinct language, which is both similar and different than the last time I read Derrida. The other half of the time, I felt like I was reading in a circle and slowly falling down a nonsensical rabbit-hole, only instead of the Queen of Hearts and a Jabberwocky at the other end, I would find a very reasonable explanation for it all, which MAKES NO SENSE. And that is how I feel about deconstruction. 😛 Terrible analogy? Yes, but my brain hurts.
I feel like the following xkcd cartoon more or less sums up how I feel about literary theory:
The thing is, I actually appreciate literary theory more now than I did in college because I can see its value beyond writing research papers. Because my paradigm has shifted somewhat from producing academic work to producing creative work, the more I look at literary theories, the more I realize that I can keep various concepts in the back of my mind as I write to produce stronger connections both within the text and for my readers. One can argue that authorial intent does not matter–and to a large extent, it doesn’t–but it intrigues me to know that I can influence my work in these different ways.
What are your thoughts on literary theory? Love it? Hate it? Don’t understand it at all? (Join the party!)