Tuesday, 22 May 2012

How education works

My colleague @MsEmentor found this on @SeanFail's Twitter page - apparently it's English Lit GCSE day, and the peons are rebelling against close reading:

Obviously there are occasions on which even I find myself exclaiming 'FFS' or worse, when faced with a particularly adventurous interpretation, but on the whole, this amusing graphic is utterly wrong. It's like this:

It doesn't matter what the author thinks

He or she may be dead, and is certainly not present at your reading. You have a complicated and rich cultural context which isn't the same as the author's, and so you'll interpret things differently. Good authors know this, and are fine with it. Bad ones work extra hard to make sure you see things his or her way. It doesn't work, because bullied readers rebel or give up. 

A decent teacher wouldn't talk about what the author meant - they'd talk about the possible interpretations of the words on the page. 

I hope I've successfully ruined the joke now. Further reading: 'The Death of the Author' (Roland Barthes) and Susan Suleiman's Authoritarian Fictions


Benjamin Judge said...

Although it is worth pointing out that a huge section of literary criticism is based on a misunderstanding of Barthes. The fact that the author is absent, or 'dead' means only that the readers interpretation of a text will not necessarily be what the author intended, NOT that any reading of a text is equally valid.

Yes, a good writer is aware that their work will be read in many ways, but just as there are bad writers there are also bad readers. I would offer Mark Chapman and Jesse Helms as two obvious examples.

The Plashing Vole said...

I totally agree with this: interpretation isn't a free-for-all.

Jim said...

I totally agree that interpretation isn't a free for all. But 'independent' readings would be a refreshing change.

Did you see the McEwan interview regarding his son's A Levels? Appalling, in many ways: