Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back to graduate school

No, not really. But I have been doing some reading that reminds me of being in graduate school -- back when I spent a lot more time trying to understand what Derrida was talking about.

This is prompted by thinking a lot about possibilities for my second novel. (I have a goal of starting a new project shortly after the start of the year to coincide with another big change in my work schedule.) And that thinking has led me to revisiting some of the literary theory I used to spend so much time with. Or, more accurately, to the theory that wasn't in vogue then and got skipped over or very aggressively dismissed. Like people wouldn't talk to you in the hallway if they thought you were curious about the wrong stuff.

Or, even more accurately, not literary theory so much as literary criticism. I'm trying to lay my hands on good examples of close reading of literature. People spend so much time articulating and defending ways of reading, that it's hard to get to the reading itself, never mind wading through the specialist's vocabulary (presuming that the writer actually intends anything intelligible, which I think it's legitimate to wonder about sometimes.)

I'm interested in what I'll call, until I better educate myself and figure out who has already discussed this, a classical rhetorical reading of literature--an analysis of how a novel achieve it's effect on the reader. What are the moves that a novel makes to create its effects? Maybe I'm looking for more of the kind of insight I got reading James Wood's How Fiction Works, but different. His other books were too thematically oriented to satisfy this interest.

How all of this relates to any novel I may write, it's hard to describe. I'll let you know when I figure it out.

So, I have a pile of books from the library from a lot of old-timers. I'm digging I.A. Richards and Leslie Fiedler. I'm intrigued by the thesis that Andre Brink proposes about self-consciousness about language in the novel as a form, but I don't see it in the examples he draws out. I get that the novels he surveys have play with language as part of their plot or theme, but I don't see how the novels are themselves self-conscious. So, I'm not yet finding what I'm looking for. Maybe when I start this Wayne Booth book, The Rhetoric of Fiction.

Additional reading note: I've been up late reading Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me and am enjoying it a lot. It has certain superficial elements in common with my book, so I'm studying it to see he achieves his effects and what I can learn from it.

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