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12 February 2010 @ 12:43 pm
on a boring morning in the hospital...  
I started flist-skipping and came across this post on Cultural Literacy by blamebrampton. It was far more interesting than reading about the issue of continence in geriatrics, but then most things are, up to and including setting your own head on fire.

I had never actually encountered the term 'cultural literacy' before, but from what I understand on an instinctual level it is 'the ability to recognise quotes and references to older books in newer books.' I really enjoy that. If I re-read a Pterry a few years later I tend to have picked up some new knowledge that lends me more insight to his in-jokes. It is FUN.

On the other hand, a lot of 'classics' don't live up to their later references. (I use 'classics' here to mean books many other writers reference, as in my opinion that's what a classic really is. It is a book well-read people assume you've read if you claim to be well-read yourself.) For example, Kafka. SPOILER ALERT: I picked up from reading other books that this dude called Gregor Samsa turned into a giant cockroach, which sounded interesting. I read the short story and ... this dude turned into a giant cockroach. I somehow expected it to be more life-changing a reading experience than it was. The reason The Metamorphosis is not written up, incidentally, is that I have not finished reading the rest of the stories in that particular collecton. For some reason, the GIANT COCKROACH put me off.

In the last two years or so I have been reading a lot of 'classics' - as per my above definition - because I feel culturally deficient. My literary education in school was nothing short of laughable. I avoid Shakespeare because I find it's like reading French. I can do it, if I'm willing to stop every few words and look up a translation. However, I have managed to read two or three plays outside of those I did in school (Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet) - which, I can tell you, is far more than most people I know. One of them was Hamlet. My brother is currently studying Hamlet and needed my help in writing essays for school. I wrote one on the 'character of Hamlet being interesting or relevant to the twentieth century or some other dumbass question' and wrote a whole rant about how he was a misogynistic asshole who was so weak-minded he blamed everyone else for his misfortunes and resented his mother for existing as a sexual being. Who knows if that's right, but hey. I hate Hamlet! (The person, I mean, not the play, although I find the plots of those five Shakespearian plays I've read utterly ridiculous.)

Only one other person I know reads Shakespeare; he's doing so from a collected works volume with no translation. According to him, it's funnier that way. (Sure, if you can read French fluently.) Maybe all this explains why I cling to people IRL who actually read. We know as medical students that the only way to become slick at examination of patients is to do it. The only way I can become culturally literate is to interact with others who already are, and that's what my life is severely lacking.

On the other hand I now get to go to a lunch provided by a drug company. There may even be free pens!
 
 
Current Mood: rejuvenatedrejuvenated
Current Music: for the dogs or whoever // josh ritter
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 17th, 2010 10:42 am (UTC)
I've read this comment a couple of times, and I keep coming back to this: are you actually implying that because I don't read certain books in some arbitrary order, I can't appreciate them properly and thus my opinion is invalid? Because I gotta say, that's insulting. I actually write my reviews this way on purpose, because I'm trying to represent someone who's not indoctrinated by the bullshit that comes with 'learning' literature. I could be a lot more academic in my presentation, but I choose not to. Also, I'd find Prozac Nation and The Bell Jar equally irritating regardless of which I read first; I can't think of any more examples of Ugh, like I haven't seen this plot a thousand times.
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 18th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
Sorry! I tend to be hyper-sensitive - in general, and especially when it comes to this, something I know I have no proper background in. (See me there, ending on a preposition.)

Well, of course it is, look at the biography of the author, look at the time in which it was written

I was having a similiar conversation with my mother just recently, talking about my cousin who's a bit homophobic, and who went to stay with my other cousin during Pride Week in Brighton. First cousin was a bit traumatised by it all. I expressed my disapproval and Mom was like, "Boys that age (teenagers) are like that. Your brother (aged 16) is like that." In return I told her age is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for discrimination. I learned about acceptance of sexuality when I was eight - I do think it is something that has to be learned, whether it's early in life because you're lucky enough to have the sort of background that advocates it, or later if necessary. But there is NEVER a time when it's OKAY to think or act that way. And while you are right in that books written during certain periods of history, by certain people, were working against a lot of sociocultural prejudice both internally and externally, that's no excuse. The suffragette movement arose from just such a background. The civil rights movement occurred during a time of horrific prejudice. You know? Which means there wasn't a sudden paradigm shift where everyone woke up one morning and was open-minded. Some people were always open-minded, they decided to stand up and fight, and now they happen to be in the majority - luckily for us. But even going back to Roman times when women were slaves, there were still men who respected them as people. Um, ranty rant is ranty? But yeah. I have a zero tolerance policy on this.

you like the writing, or you don't.

I apply this theory in life too, and boy does it get me into a lot of shit. D: But sorry again for misinterpreting.
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 18th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
I can't remember when I first came to be aware of (just to name the numero uno ~Issue I have) feminism and the fight for equality etc. But I know I wasn't taught it in school or told about it at home - I read it in a book. Someone told me that books like the Road contributed to the uprising of feminism in the 60s. Nothing will stop me hating it, but I do relegate it firmly to the Past.

Hmm. I do believe that, to quote myself, 'you shouldn't have to read an Introduction to 'get' a book.' But I guess it is sometimes inevitable.

My love of those whodunnit moments is what spurred me on to this project in the first place. :D I'm not sure how much I've actually achieved with it; however, I shall persevere.
A: DW: Time Dorkcentraslayer on February 12th, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC)
I had that same experience when reading Metamorphosis- mostly I kept going "Why isn't he freaking out? No, you don't have to go to work you idiot because this is a bit more pressing."

Watching Metamorphosis! The Musical is much more exciting

Also, the free office supplies provided by various drug companies are what got me through my adolescent academic career (My father is a pharmacist).

Edited at 2010-02-12 08:17 pm (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 17th, 2010 10:35 am (UTC)
I'm sure that's part of the existential ennui he was trying to capture. Or something else high-falutin and DAFT like that. Although, I suppose, it would have been an even more boring story if it was all about him freaking out. There was a lot of cold menace to the way he kept to a controlled panic.

I was a bit disappointed by the lunch we got. IT WAS PFIZER. AIM HIGHER.

Edited at 2010-02-17 10:36 am (UTC)
Acentraslayer on February 17th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
Waaaaaaat- they have more money than god, they can afford good lunches! I think I have some stuffed animals from them actually o.0

Also!

Edited at 2010-02-17 06:05 pm (UTC)
Blindmouse: Alice readingblindmouse on February 12th, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
I am sadfacing at you over the dearth of readers in your life! This is what happens when you don't study humanities at uni, you see. Arts students don't actually know how to navigate their way through a conversation without reference to books ;)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 17th, 2010 10:34 am (UTC)
I've lived with arts students and they mainly seem to watch a lot of (bad) TV. Clearly what I'm lacking is having you (and Helen and Mik) nearby. WHERE'S A TELEPORTER WHEN YOU NEED ONE.
cleodoxacleodoxa on February 13th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Sadly, I probably used to read more classics before I got into fandom, partly because some of the appeal of one I found in the other. I like the way both of them work like a conversation and become more by their relation to what someone else said; they're greater than their sum of parts. One of the reasons you can pat yourself on the back about reading a classic is that now you know more about other books, whether ones you've read or ones you will read.

I've never really got along with the idea that a "classic" book is something that's above being enjoyable. I can see how some things are considered classic because of the influence they had, even if, to me, they don't seem to have much value in themselves, like Metamorphosis. (I was supposed to read that recently and was put off largely because I don't like insects.) But by and large, if I don't enjoy something, that's usually because I don't think it's very good. I guess maybe there's two kinds of classics, the ones that have social and historical interest and the ones that are just really good books that have lasted. It annoys me when sometimes people talk about how wonderful something is, but you're not sure why because they go on about how difficult and dull it is like it's only the cerebral, detached appreciation for the idea of "the canon" that would make you care about "cultural literacy." For me, the whole point is that it means something real you don't need to dress up to make relevant, because it already has to do with life.

The catch, though, is that you probably do need a degree of cultural literacy to get it, however relevant it seems when you know the language. This is why it's a shame that schools often are so crap at making people see that these arbitrarily chosen books are part of a real world. It makes such a chasm of perception between readers and non-readers. I never personally knew anyone at school who read for pleasure.

Long comment is very long, but anyway, I like Shakespeare! You may not if you like the plots to be reasonable, though. Maybe it would help seeing how much you can work out without notes and not worrying too much about not getting everything?
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 17th, 2010 10:40 am (UTC)
But by and large, if I don't enjoy something, that's usually because I don't think it's very good. I guess maybe there's two kinds of classics, the ones that have social and historical interest and the ones that are just really good books that have lasted.

THIS. Of course, there's a large grey area in terms of what's classed as enjoyable and what isn't. I think Jane Austen is probably THE most enjoyable writer ever. I don't like Trollope; but I can see why some people might. Same with Dickens. I still froth at the mouth when someone tries to sell me on Kerouac, though.

One day I will try my hand at Shakespeare, but there seem to be so many other books I'd like to read more! Currently I'm trying to get my hands on as many Bookers as possible. I'd like to be able to say I've read all the Booker winners, especially as I've nearly completed most of those Top 100 lists. (I'll never forgive Britain's Most Loved for making me read On Green Dolphin Street, though. UGH.) So ... ONE DAY. I swear. :D
Sereniaserenia on February 13th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
Some of the 'classics' just aren't that great, in my opinion. I did really enjoy War & Peace, though, because I love historical fiction, especially stories that focus on social interactions from other cultures. It's so interesting the way people from other countries interact when compared to us.

Hooray for drug company freebies! I miss working at a doctors' surgery and getting the free pens and post-it notes and weird water-filled objects.
Sereniaserenia on February 13th, 2010 01:47 am (UTC)
BTW, please don't ever take my comments on literature as educated and well thought-out. I dropped out of school before we even had to read any Shakespeare or anything like that!
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 17th, 2010 10:50 am (UTC)
Education can be paralysing - people in my class, with five years of medical school behind them, haven't necesarily read as many books or have as many opinions on them as you!
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on February 17th, 2010 10:33 am (UTC)
I'm reading The Famished Road at the moment and although I still have no idea where it's set, the interactions are totally baffling. They are certainly interesting, although I'm not sure if they're my favourite thing about reading non-British (for e.g.) fiction. I'll have to think about that one.

I got a ruler that was also a calculator! \o/