Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Dream Without a Dream

No one thinks it necessary to ask "What did that mean?" upon stubbing their toe, spilling a glass of water, or receiving a fortuitous pro-rated refund check in the mail. These things happen, right? They are the substance of life, and to comment on them further seems somehow beside the point.

Yet, when it comes to literary criticism, no stubbing can pass unremarked. It's in the nature of the game. Most of the time, I think it's right and proper that critics ask "What does that mean?" of even the smallest details. In one of Poe's more famous essays on art, he claims not to have put anything in the story but that which was absolutely necessary -- in other words, he encourages us to look that closely. If a character stubs a toe, by golly, it must be an allusion to "Achilles' Heel" or something!

But I have begun to wonder whether "looking closely" and "looking critically" are two different things: the difference between "seizing the day," "getting the most out of life," "Being present," on the one hand and, on the other, asking "What does that mean?" If you stub your toe, the gurus say "Go into that, let it be, get the full experience." But honestly, nobody (sane) asks what it means when they stub their toe.

I am thinking, again, of the correspondence (if I were a postmodernist I would definitely turn that into a renewed jargon-word and write: "correspondance.") between narrative fiction and life. My reading and my living have so far convinced me that we tend to treat these things very differently, and that it might be more interesting (both in terms of living and to our reading experience) if we did not. I'm working on finding a way to demonstrate this point without resorting to storytelling.

Comments are welcome, but this is just thinking aloud at this point, I suppose.

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