Thursday, October 25, 2012

Officially Confused


          Literary analysis is a task done at a professional level by literary scholars. The scholar dissects a poem, book, or author and explains through writing or speech their thoughts on the motivations, aims, and meaning of the work(s) or individual. Many scholars and others in the art community assume that the audience for such pieces comprises of people who have a long history in literature and pre-existing knowledge of literary concepts. It can be argued, however, that literature is a more accessible and understandable than scientific journals (which assume much about the knowledge of the reader). Gregory Lynall is an English studies professor at the University of Liverpool who, in this case, is writing about Jonathan Swift. This article was obtained via Academic Research Complete on the UW- La Crosse website. The official style was instantly recognizable.
It would seem that Lynall prescribes to the belief that scholarly writing is written for scholarly readers. The abstract itself is enough to make an English major furrow their brow. Here’s a taste:
“Swift began writing poetry at a time when the occult doctrines of the Renaissance had in general lost their philosophical and cultural power, yet he still chose to infuse some of his verse with allusions to these increasingly marginalized traditions”.
The stuffy tone is appropriate. After all, if you don’t use uncommon terms that have vague meaning, then you must not know what you’re talking about. That’s sarcasm, of course, nothing is lost with this, simpler, translation:
Though Swift began writing after the heyday of the Renaissance, he still used literary techniques of that age in some of his works.
This translation is not as simply stated as possible, but it is significantly easier to understand. It allows for more clarity without the loss of meaning. In another example, Lynall says, “Furthermore, the image of the bubble also evokes the poem’s general anxiety about the moral vacuity in contemporary life”, which could be more simply said: The bubble reminds us of the moral emptiness in current times. It keeps the message and gains the understanding of readers who have never come across the rare term “vacuity”. Those readers may be equally as interested as a fellow critic, but won’t be able to draw out the meaning of the criticism without a dictionary.
            The reason this article is particularly interesting to me is my future work. If I am to dissect a piece of literature and write on how it applies to our world, it should be understood by the vast majority of those who read it. The activity system of literary analysis has the goal of helping anyone interested to more deeply understand the subject matter at hand. The game that Lynall and writers like him play (knowingly or unknowingly) makes literary analysis more about appearing to make good points than actually making good points. The value of articles like Lynall’s become more focused on entertainment than information with each rare word used. They are only blocking the highway of understanding with their unnecessary use of near-dead words. A good analysis should communicate its message clearly, not shows the reader how large the author’s vocabulary is.  
                                                                                                                                          -Ryan Churchill 

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