Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More, on the Close Reading Assignment

À Propos our Close Reading Assignment, read the following from a student frustrated after a lecture in first-year course of mine:

I absolutely despise poetry. In my humble opinion, the poetry we are doing is being over-analyzed. Im sure there are others who agree with me when I say that, maybe the poet did not have anything more to say. For example, in "Cement Worker....", yield", as you said is a yellow sign and emphasizes the almost synesthesia-like description of colour throughout this book. However, I think that you were possibly the only person in the entire lecture hall who thought of it that way. Of course, your thought is what counts being our professor, but I think that maybe, its just a simple poem, without five hundrer million deeper meanings. Or maybe its just my hate for poetry that is coming to the surface.
To the charge of over-analysis, I replied, à la one of Archie Bunker's malapropisms, "Now listen here, I resemble that remark." Heck, I get paid to over-analyse!

Seriously, though, the Close Reading assignment is designed to have you exercise and strengthen your interpretive abilities. One of William Blake's Proverbs of Hell is very pertinent here:
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
To rephrase that for us, you will never know what is a full interpretation until you know what is an over-interpretation. Here in English Literature courses, we learn how to push interpretations to their limits--learn to see how wide and deep a single word, or a phrase, can go--and then, once we see all the possibilities (of meaning, of reference, and of association), we can then learn how to winnow out the the likely from the unlikely; plausible from the implausible; the valid from the unvalid; the certain from the uncertain.

This post is credited to one of my seminar students who was concerned that her analysis of the word "brick" in a course reading was over-interpretation. Looking at her work, it was just the right amount of intrepretation: she would have had a long way to go still before it reached the line of over-interpretation.

So, for Wednesday lecture this week, consider all the possible meanings, references, and associations of the word "brick"....

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