The acquisition of knowledge is not progression from point A to point B. There in fact, is no point B. The Colossus crawls ever westward, overlapping its own footprints, making new impressions in the Earth.
As a transfer student my first literature class at Eastern was ENGL 300W: Writing About Literature. Our main textbook for the course was The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, a white, hardcover tome that looked like the offspring of one of those gold bibles you find in a Catholic church and a collected edition of Lord of the Rings; my professor called it “The Spouse Killer.” Not long after I also purchased the much smaller, paperback graphic novel Daytripper, written and illustrated by Brazilian twins Gabriel bá and Fábio Moon. The first is a monument to critical thought; it is an embodiment of academia; it is literary study in it’s purest, most intimidatingly exciting form. The pages are thin and translucent and the print is tiny. The writings begin with Plato and Aristotle and launch full-force into a variety of styles and schools of thought. The drifting, glazed stares of the students who were forced to discuss the dry, pithy texts seemed to almost singlehandedly justify its existence. Literary theory, after all, is cold, calculating, and intimidating. It is devoid of emotion and those who cannot stomach it are doomed to a life of academic desolation (this is at least, how we as students saw it some days).
Daytripper, on the other hand, is 10 chapters, 208 pages of brightly colored, newsprint-like pages. The cruelty of this physical appearance however, is that the entire book is about death. Most of the chapters are titled simply with a number: the age at which the main character dies. The ages and manners of death range so much that most of the book seems unendingly sadistic. In one chapter, he is electrocuted at age 11, shortly after receiving his first kiss. The book ends with this character finally making it to a ripe old age, having dealt with the loss of his father and having a son of his own. You end Daytripper with several thoughts, but with a hundred thousand feelings. It is as harsh, mean, and painful as it is beautiful and redemptive. As a reader, you end with a feeling that you’ve experienced someone’s life; this is a lot to think about. The cruelty of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, on the other hand is opposite. It makes the reader think and reason and deduce. It hammers unrelentingly the teaching of the great minds of canon. How cruel then that it undoes its very purpose by making the reader enjoy criticism. I liked reading the book. I thought about the theory but I also felt joy when I understood and applied the teachings. I sold it at the end of the semester for $50 because I needed gas and beer; I almost immediately felt regret.How then am I meant to distinguish theory from enjoyment, when I reflect upon my enjoyment and enjoy my reflections? The tyranny of the criticism wars is that it seeks to split humanity into two parts: the thinking and feeling. People however, simply don’t work this way. There is no way to divorce two aspects which are as vital and intertwined as thought and emotion. The presence of one in tandem with the other grants us our identity and when we squabble amongst ourselves in an attempt to place one able the other, we can never really understand either.
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