How to Read Literature Like a Professor

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How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Mind Map: How to Read Literature Like a Professor

1. Courage and Nobility. Homer gives us four great struggles of the human being: with nature, with the divine, with other humans, and with ourselves.

1.1. The need to protect one’s family: Hector.

1.2. The need to maintain one’s dignity: Achilles.

1.3. The determination to remain faithful and to have faith: Penelope.

1.4. The struggle to return home: Odysseus.

2. If we judge the text, the age or experience of the author does not matter. For my part, I would prefer to read the novel rather than the reputation.

3. don’t read with your eyes (fixed position/specific perspective/popular culture)

4. Not all diseases are created equal.Well, then, what makes a prime literary disease?It should be picturesque. It should be mysterious in origin. It should have strong symbolic or metaphorical possibilities.

5. And lateral thinking is what we’re really discussing: the way writers can keep their eye on the target, whether it be the plot of the play or the ending of the novel or the argument of the poem, and at the same time bring in a great deal of at least tangentially related material.

6. Memory. Symbol. Pattern. These are the three items that, more than any other, separate the professorial reader from the rest of the crowd.

6.1. ghosts and vampires are never only about ghosts and vampires

6.2. Literature is full of patterns. Step back from the work, even while you’re reading it, and look for those patterns.

6.3. Have a predisposition to see things as existing in themselves while simultaneously also representing something else.

6.4. Part of pattern recognition is talent, but a whole lot of it is practice: if you read enough and give what you read enough thought, you begin to see patterns, archetypes, recurrences.

6.5. But a Christ figure doesn’t need to resemble Christ in every way; otherwise he wouldn’t be a Christ figure, he’d be, well, Christ.

6.6. Every American should know enough of the blues to understand exactly what keys and locks signify, and to blush when they’re referred to.

6.7. You just know that these scenes mean something more than what’s going on in them. It’s true in life as well, where sex can be pleasure, sacrifice, submission, rebellion, resignation, supplication, domination, enlightenment, the whole works

6.8. So when writers baptize a character they mean death, rebirth, new identity? Generally, yes.

6.9. So in a literary work, does submersion in water always signify baptism?Take rebirth. Does it represent baptism? If you mean, Is it spiritual, then we can say, sometimes. Sometimes, though, it may just signify birth, a new start, largely stripped of spiritual significance.

6.10. One mention of birds or flight is an occurrence, two may be a coincidence, but three constitutes a definite trend. And trends, as we know, cry out for examination.

7. If you want to know what the world thinks about a writer and her work, check back with us in, oh, two hundred years or so.

8. The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.

9. “Always” and “never” are words that don’t have much meaning in literary study. Some wise guy will come along and write something to prove that it’s not.

10. Consider journeys. Sometimes the quest fails or is not taken up by the protagonist. Moreover, is every trip really a quest? It depends. Some days I just drive to work —no adventures, no growth. I’m sure that the same is true in writing. Sometimes plot requires that a writer get a character from home to work and back again.

11. Whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion. I want to be with you, you want to be with me, let us share the experience. And that’s the point: communion doesn’t need to be holy. Or even decent.

12. He discovers he has something in common with this stranger—eating as a fundamental element of life—that there is a bond between them.

13. there is a literary or historical model who found her way into his fiction to give it shape and purpose.

14. Intertexuality

14.1. The devil, as the old saying goes, can quote Scripture. So can writers. Even those who aren’t religious or don’t live within the Judeo-Christian tradition may work something in from Job or Matthew or the Psalms. The Bible is full of possible titles. More common than titles are situations and quotations. Poetry is absolutely full of Scripture.

14.2. The new text emerges in part through earlier texts that exert influence on the writer in one way or another. This relationship contains considerable potential for struggle, which is called intertextuality

14.3. there’s no such thing as a wholly original work of literature

14.4. So there is a ubiquity to Shakespeare’s work that makes it rather like a sacred text: at some very deep level he is ingrained in our psyches.

14.5. everything’s connected. In other words, anything you write is connected to other written things

14.6. Even avoidance is a form of interaction. It’s simply impossible to write or direct in a vacuum. The movies you have seen were created by men and women who had seen others, and so on, until every movie connects with every other movie ever made.

14.7. Don’t bother looking for the originals, though. You can’t find the archetype, just as you can’t find the pure myths.

15. Vocab

15.1. Milquetoast

15.2. Vesuvius

15.3. Idiosyncratic

15.4. Arbitrary

15.5. Tenet

15.6. Cadences

15.7. Ostensibly

16. Imagination

16.1. Even though the current examples have nothing to do with drama, your symbolic imagination will allow you to connect the earlier instance of this pattern with the real-life examples in front of you at the moment. And your talent for nifty naming will come up with something to call this pattern: the Oedipal complex.

16.2. Here’s what I think we do: we want strangeness in our stories, but we want familiarity, too.

16.3. If it’s not in the text, it doesn’t exist. We can only read what is present in a novel, play, or film.

16.4. We bring an individual history to our reading, a mix of previous readings, to be sure, but also a history that includes, but is not limited to, educational attainment, gender, race, class, faith, social involvement, and philosophical inclination. These factors will inevitably influence what we understand in our reading, and nowhere is this individuality clearer than in the matter of symbolism

17. Weather

17.1. Here’s what I think: weather is never just weather. It’s never just rain. First of all, as a plot device. Second, atmospherics. Rain can be more mysterious, murkier, more isolating than most other weather conditions. What other things? For one, it’s clean. One of the paradoxes of rain is how clean it is coming down and how much mud it can make when it lands. So if you want a character to be cleansed, symbolically, let him walk through the rain to get somewhere. Rain is the principal element of spring. April showers do in fact bring May flowers. Spring is the season not only of renewal but of hope, of new awakenings.

17.2. Seasons can work magic on us, and writers can work magic with seasons

18. drama, death, and guilt: the movie trifecta

19. Characters

19.1. Characters are products of writers’ imaginations—and readers’ imaginations.

19.2. no character is created equal. One or two get all the breaks; the rest exist to get them to the finish line

19.3. They are representations, in greater or lesser detail, of human beings. Even round characters are somewhat less than complete beings. They are merely simulacra, illusions meant to suggest fully formed humans. To the extent that we believe in them, that is a credit to the writer.

20. The contemporary formulation is this bit of circular thinking: plot is character in action; character is revealed and shaped by plot.

21. Violence

21.1. It’s nearly impossible to generalize about the meanings of violence, except that there are typically more than one, and its range of possibilities is far larger than with something like rain or snow. Authors rarely introduce violence straightforwardly, to perform only its one appointed task, so we ask questions. What does this type of misfortune represent thematically? What famous or mythic death does this one resemble? Why this sort of violence and not some other? The answers may have to do with psychological dilemmas, with spiritual crises, with historical or social or political concerns.

22. Geography is setting, but it’s also (or can be) psychology, attitude, finance, industry—anything that place can forge in the people who live there

23. “the Indiana Jones principle”: if you want your audience to know something important about your character (or the work at large), introduce it early, before you need it.

24. Irony

24.1. Whenever fairy tales and their simplistic worldview crop up in connection with our complicated and morally ambiguous world, you can almost certainly plan on irony.

24.2. Irony—sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes wry or perplexing—provides additional richness to the literary dish. And it certainly keeps us readers on our toes, inviting us, compelling us, to dig through layers of possible meaning and competing signification. We must remember: irony trumps everything.