Ursula K. Le Guin: A Message about Messages

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Delaney
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Postby Delaney » Sun Aug 28, 2005 5:41 pm

:lol: This explains the ego...
<i>It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people. - Terry Pratchett</i>
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Postby CycoMerlin14 » Mon Aug 29, 2005 1:45 pm

Also, it's in my signature...but I thought it an appropriate moment to refer to it:

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot will be shot." ~ Mark Twain

:D
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kamikazekelly
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Postby kamikazekelly » Mon Sep 12, 2005 5:15 pm

I realize this is an older thread, but I can't help myself because LeGuin has touched on something that has had me irritated since I first started graduate school i.e. that stories can and should be read simply for the sake of the story without the hunt for hidden meaning & layers upon layers of message.

Looking for Freudian overtones in Shakespeare is just...dumb...for several different reasons that I'm not even going to go into here. However, there's nothing wrong with looking at the historical allusions in order to add depth to one's understanding of the plays--or to look at messages of morality, values (or lack thereof) etc, etc...

BUT--

I had a professor (actually, one of my least favorite professors) tell me something once that really stuck with me. I was in his Southern Poetry (the Fugitive Poets) class (*yawn*--for me, at least) and was looking at one of the few poems that I had really enjoyed. Instead of an academic paper, I created a website that addressed different literary interpretations throughout the poem stanza by stanza and sometimes even word by word. I considered the actual poet's commentary to be the ultimate authority and quoted from him heavily. However, this professor asked me why I did that, saying "The writer is not necessarily the person who most thouroughly understands his work, and therefore shouldn't be considered the ultimate authority."

At the time, I considered this to be the most profoundly stupid statement I'd ever heard. The fact that I didn't like the guy helped, too. However, now that I've spent some time actually teaching literature (a little) and, of course, reading plenty of it myself, I've come to understand this statement a bit more.

More often than not, stories that are meant to be read as "just stories" are usually mainstream fiction--the stories that become "elevated" to the literary canon tend to be ones that contain layers of depth and meaning. Few writers actually set out to write something "literary," at least it seems that way to me. Meaning and message in the best works happens both incidentally and organically. Playing "hunt/harvest the message" in literary classes is an integral part because that is, at least in my estimation, what literature IS; i.e. stories that are more than "just stories." Arguing about interpretation, meaning and messages is what literary criticism is all about--and that's what makes studying lit so much fun, at least in part.

Please don't think I'm being snobbish about this--trust me, in my world Shakespeare would be taught along with Stephen King. One may be more "literary" than the other but both are valuable.

Oh, and Ursula LeGuin rocks my socks--I teach her short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" in my Composition II class. My students love it--not because of its message, but because it has the word "orgy" in it.

:D
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Anblick
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Postby Anblick » Mon Sep 12, 2005 10:25 pm

I once proved a prof wrong that was convinced that every story had a deeper meaning. I wrote one deliberately with no meaning but lots of "potential metaphors" and calimed I found it in an anthology and wanted to know what it meant. After a few days of analysis, he came back it a WAY IN DEPTH meaning. When I told him I wrote it with nonsense in mind, he claimed my "sub-conscious" wanted a deeper meaning. To this day, I'm convinced he's Full of $h1+!

I even burned the crappy story in triumph!
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kamikazekelly
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Postby kamikazekelly » Tue Sep 13, 2005 8:09 pm

Anblick- Heh. That's pretty good.

This whole quandry is actually part of the reason that I'm not going forward & getting my Ph.D. Academia seems to be full to the brim of "scholars" defending their poor interpretations (and GOOD interpretations, to be fair) to the point of absurdity.

Once you start throwing words like "subconcious" around, it's definitely time to back away from the story very, very slowly...
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Anblick
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Postby Anblick » Tue Sep 13, 2005 8:17 pm

Though there are quite a few stories out there that clearly have a deeper meaning beind them:

Lord of the Flies was clearly about the nature of man.
Gulliver's Travels was clearly a metaphorical statement about politics from the time.

Etc.

My SS "Sins of the Father" has all kinds of deeper meanings intwined in it. My novel has a definite theme to it. None of my other stories come even close.

But the vast majority of stories are there to entertain. There is no deeper meaning than that. Yet much of academia wants desperately to find some...
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kamikazekelly
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Postby kamikazekelly » Tue Sep 13, 2005 8:29 pm

Sure, deeper meanings are there--sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.


It's that "desperation" factor in academia that really turns me off. I don't see the point in spending vast amounts of time arguing about stuff like phallic symbols and other things when, really, ultimately, it's the story that matters.

Besides, as much as I dislike him, it's just like what Freud once said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

:D
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Postby AlienEeeter » Tue Sep 13, 2005 9:49 pm

Anblick wrote:I once proved a prof wrong that was convinced that every story had a deeper meaning. I wrote one deliberately with no meaning but lots of "potential metaphors" and calimed I found it in an anthology and wanted to know what it meant. After a few days of analysis, he came back it a WAY IN DEPTH meaning. When I told him I wrote it with nonsense in mind, he claimed my "sub-conscious" wanted a deeper meaning. To this day, I'm convinced he's Full of $h1+!

I even burned the crappy story in triumph!


John Lennon wrote "I Am the Walrus" for this reason after he learned that a teacher was having his kids analyze Beatles songs. It doesnt mean anything.

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