Thursday, June 07, 2007

Studies in Classic American Literature

A co-worker and I have been discussing novels and stories recently. He is just starting to read fiction again and is going through quite a few short stories and the occasional book. I’ve sent him a couple I've rather enjoyed and we’ve talked about some that he's liked. Sadly, he did not quite appreciate The Journal of a New COBRA Recruit as much as I did, but that's because he wasn’t familiar with GI Joe and that familiarity is essential to truly appreciate the story. In return for the four I sent him the other day, he printed out the first chapter (6 pages) of D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature.

Little did he know that in college I spent three years trying to find a copy of that book. My student advisor and English professor put it on a recommended reading list one year and I could never find a copy of it anywhere. By the time I was more than a year out of college I had forgotten about it.

And then the first chapter shows up on my desk this morning and the entire text is available for free online! Who knew?! I didn’t find it at Project Gutenberg, but I never expected to have it, either.

Lawrence writes:
The artist usually sets out – or used to – to point a moral and adorn a tale. The tale, however, points the other way, as a rule. Two blankly opposing morals, the artist's and the tale's. Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.

Now we know our business in these studies; saving the American tale from the American artist.
Outstanding. Simply outstanding.

It helps that I agree completely with this point, though I generally would not go so far as to say we need to save a tale from the artist, but rather that the artist has one perception of his work, but there may be other ways to read a story. The is the story the author intended and then there is the story itself which is open to criticism and interpretation and as long as the text of the story supports another reading, that reading is equally as valid as the intent of the author.

Reading that first chapter, this is a bold essay, a bold book. He takes readers to task for not understanding their intellectual shackles and how the bias comes in. Who are the masters and can we identify it in our own thought? The man may have died in 1930, but there is some powerful thinking here which I think may still apply today, though perhaps in a different sort of way. I think I will need to see where Lawrence is taking this idea of finding the American cultural identity to figure out what exactly he means by:
American consciousness has so far been a false dawn. The negative ideal of democracy. But underneath, and contrary to this open ideal, the first hints and revelations of IT. IT, the American whole soul.

You have got to pull the democratic and idealistic clothes off American utterance, and see what you can of the dusky body of IT underneath.
I get, more or less how Lawrence came to this, but I don’t know where he is bringing this.

On to the next chapter!!!

No comments: