Saturday, September 21, 2013

The End of the Affair: My Disillusionment with Literature (Part 1)

So much for blogging regularly. But, in my defense, I've been really busy. I am in graduate school full time (as I probably mentioned), and I work 40 hours a week.

And therein lies the rub, and the topic of this post.

I am at a crossroads in my life where I have come to consider entering into graduate school as a mistake. I realize that it was an unnecessary, overambitious step that I took without real thought to the ways in which it would interfere in and overexhaust my life. I also thought I could 'do it all' and work full time while in grad school, and that has come to be my biggest mistake of all.

All this would be worth it if I were studying something I truly loved, or something truly worthwhile.  But the nightmarish reality that I find increasingly more apparent is that the study of Literature or writing at a post-undergraduate level is not only a fruitless endeavor from a practical standpoint; it is also an objectionable, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting one.

To those who know me, this probably sounds anathema. I have always been so wrapped up in reading, writing, and thinking about books, poetry, and other kinds of literature, that it has been an almost-obsessive passion.  My attempts at poetry as a teenager and my bordering-on-worship of the Lord of the Rings can attest to that.

And I suppose in that sense, I still love certain books or works of lit that are beautiful or interesting to me.  But what I have discovered very abruptly, like hitting a wall going 75mph, is that Literature as an academic pursuit is a monstrous, atheistic, morally perverse thing.  As such, any joy or benefit I might have gleaned from any worthwhile texts we read for class has been sucked away, and just sitting through the two-odd hour long classes becomes a mental and emotional struggle.

Let me explain.

An undergraduate degree in English Lit (at least at my school) requires you to take such and so a class on this type of poetry, and a class on writing, and a few classes on theory. Every now and then you come upon a theory or an author that is really just garbage, like Toni Morrison and other sex-charged, race-baiting feminists, or the very rudimentary coverage of Roland Barthes' Death of the Author that you read in 'Intro to Literary Theory and Criticism'.  But the majority of your time is spent on relatively 'safe' literature--the Romantic period poetry, classical philosophy, Chaucer, and T.S. Eliot.  Certainly, in their own ways, and depending upon the agenda of the professor in each class, all of these texts have their pitfalls for a practicing Catholic, but generally, with an informed understanding that not everything you read or hear in class is gospel-truth, you get by with your Faith and your passion for Literature intact, having honed your writing skills and written several papers you're proud of.  I guess I signed up for the graduate program expecting more of the same, but with more nuanced explorations of the texts, and a little more attentiveness to modern criticism and theory.

Most importantly, I came away from my undergraduate studies with an impression of work in the field as a relatively innocuous 'you read a text, you analyze it, you interpret it, you write a paper' process.

In some ways, this is true, although I have yet to take a class that did not somehow involve sex, race, and the debate over gay marriage in its discussions.  But while I could write a whole 'nother post on the offensive topics harped on in my classes, what I am most shocked and heartbroken by is the discovery of what this field really is.

I hope I can explain this clearly. People who can truly be said to be professionals in the academic study of Literature and writing create, accept, and operate upon a system of beliefs and principles that utterly and completely fly in the face of Catholicism--or even just theism--and morality.

Maybe I was just naive, but this was news, devastating news, to me.

And let's be clear--this is not a pocket of the field, or an anomalous result of having to read a handpicked series of articles by scholars who happen to all fall on the liberal side of the scale.  This is a reality that permeates the very definition of the field by those who have been granted the implicit authority to define it since at least the 1960's, but further back than that, I think.  Let me also be clear--I do understand that I, personally, can still read and appreciate worthy literature without all of this destroying my experience.  What I am upset about is that I am financially and temporally invested in something that offends and contradicts the very core of my belief-system.

The second half of this post will contain some concrete examples proving what I have just claimed about the field, so if you don't care about Literature, you may want to skip. ;)