Friday, November 16, 2018

Me on Quora: Literary Analysis Is Unavoidable

November's been the most active month on this blog all year, starting this past Sunday, in large part because of Remembrance Day monuments and exhibits in my hometown of Toronto. This blog is called Matthew Gordon Books, though, so let's talk literature for a moment.

On Quora just now, I answered the question: Why is it important to do literary analysis and how does it benefit society? I have a teacher who thinks that literature analysis is useless, and I disagree with him, but I can't find a theoretical (books, essays, articles) basis to prove my point.

The question's second sentence is superfluous. The first part of the first sentence is hopefully not lost on any universities that are cutting funding to their English departments amidst flagging enrollment numbers. "Why is it important to do literary analysis?" someone asks, so...

Here's my answer in full, with a different background so it stands out from my usual blogging:


Literary analysis is something we all do with any fiction or non-fiction source, virtually by accident.
Consider this passage I just made up:
Xenia’s broom lashed at the ice crystals on her car windshield as she cursed her lack of any better scraping tool. With each shove she gave, the broom’s wiry bristles caught and flung minuscule pieces of ice onto her driveway. Her hot white breath swept up the snowflakes that fell in front of her, while the ones behind her gently wafted down into her hair.
Now, answer the following question: Does Xenia currently feel warm or cold?
It’s clearly winter, or at least winter weather, in what likely is a cold-weather climate. That’s a good case for Xenia feeling cold.
However, this also means she’s likely wearing a warm coat, and she’s just been shown to have physically exerted herself. That’s an equally good case for Xenia feeling warm.
Maybe her face feels cold but her midsection feels warm.
Regardless of the answer you picked, you’ve just engaged in literary analysis.

Now, let’s look at intrinsic versus extrinsic analysis. In extreme shortness, intrinsic analysis looks only to the work in front of the reader, whereas extrinsic analysisinvolves everything from other literary works to the author’s life experiences to world politics at the time of the writing.
What you just did above is intrinsic analysis.
However, I, the author of the above passage, have lived in a place where it frequently reaches -40 in the winter, even without snow. Often, snowfall would occur during temperatures far warmer, but still cold at around -10.
What if you use my experience living in that place to speculate that Xenia may have finally emerged from the bitter, snow-less -40 to the comparatively “warm” -10? Remember, I only said above that she’s “likely” to be wearing a warm coat. For all we know, Xenia’s wearing a T-shirt. That snowflakes waft into her hair shows that she’s definitely not wearing a hood, and probably not wearing a hat.
Congratulations! You’ve now differentiated between intrinsic and extrinsic analysis.

This answer could go on with all different types of literary analysis but the point should be clear by now. Literary analysis is unavoidable. It only makes sense to want to be good at it.

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