Monday, October 04, 2010

GS: ooooh, shiny

this post bores me silly.  but I wrote it yesterday and I haven't posted anything in several days so I'm sending it through.  Save it for if you're having trouble getting to sleep tonight.

When I went off to college lo, these hundred and fifty years ago as an 18-year-old with a newly minted high school diploma, brimming with naive enthusiasm and fully believing that I would help change the world, I was also a conservative, Evangelical Christian born and bred.  In spite of my firm belief that I was open-minded and sophisticated (because I was, compared to many of the other kids in my senior class), I knew nothing.  Nothing.  I grew up mostly in the South, in East Texas (and if you don't think that's the South, let me just invite you to stand up and say that in a bar in East Texas and see if you make it out alive).  I was so much a product of a particular time and place that it embarrasses me now to think of some of the opinions I held as if they were gospel.

So, as you might expect, much of my undergraduate career was studded with moments of revelation (hell, much of my life has been).  Moments where my brain was turned inside out as I discovered that certain sacred items of my youth were not universally true-- and more than a few of them were not true at all.  Maybe not always in the ways you might expect.  The cliche' among conservative Christians is that their children will go off to college, be exposed to misleading and/or evil ideas, and be lead away from their faith.  But I spent my first two years at a Christian school, and being among Christians 24/7 was what led me to the edge of faith.  Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's at least partly true.  It wasn't that they were so hypocritical (although there was plenty of hypocrisy, my own included), it was that it became clear to me that my own naive ideas of what Christianity was "supposed" to be like (all love, all the time) weren't in any way related to reality.  Also, since the school was well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I started figuring out that at least some of what I was raised to believe was important was a product of living in the South--with little or nothing to do with Christianity.  Which may be why some people don't go very far from home for college-- they don't want anyone messing with their heads.  I am definitely getting off track from what I wanted to write about. 

But it turns out that I loved having my head messed with (so to speak).  Once it had happened a few times, I loved that feeling of WOW, I never thought of it that way.   It happened while I was still at that conservative school when I took a Sociology of Women class from a fairly liberal (considering where we were) woman professor who went through the Bible with us and had us examine exactly what the bible says about women (which is not always exactly what the conservatives would have you think).

It happened with my first contact with gays (well, first that I was aware of), due to a very dear man who lived in the same house I did my junior year and who came out that year.  I was not a very good friend to him, I think, but he was tolerant of me, and I learned a lot.  I hope I've done better since.

As I've said many times, it happened when my daughter was born.  And it's why I love to travel.  You see how other people live, and it challenges your own assumptions--both about them and about yourself.  When we went to China in 2009, I was excited about seeing a new place, but I didn't really think I'd like it.  I had this near-queasy feeling in my gut about Asia, which as far as I can tell was a legacy of the presence of the Vietnam war on the nightly news throughout most of my grade school years.  As it turns out, I was blown away by the warmth and friendliness and ...well, the humanity of the Chinese people.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that (because--duh--the Chinese people are human), but that's the way these brain twists always are-- once you get to the other side, you can't quite believe you ever thought the old way.

I love that feeling.  In fact, a few years ago when all of us in my women's group created bucket lists of things we wanted to do before we died, there were no items on my list, just a statement that I wanted to continue to learn and do things that would twist my brain, blow me away, the proverbial fruit basket turnover.  (hmmm, which is maybe why I find it so frustrating to live in a small, rural town....)

But now that I'm back in graduate school, I'm wondering if it's possible to get addicted to that feeling, to the point that you keep seeking it out when it makes no sense.  Because that's what Literary Theory sometimes feels like to me.  The point seems to be to overturn everyone of your unconscious assumptions, every possible thing that you thought you knew.  And with good reason, for the most part.  It's good to examine your biases, and I appreciate the chance to do it. But now we're studying New Historicism, and it seems to have gone beyond examining your assumptions to a desire to turn things inside out just for the experience of looking at a poem (or novel or whatever) in a new way.  Just because.  Ooooh, shiny.  Is it bad? well, no, of course not.  But does it really make you a better reader of the poem?  Sometimes, but sometimes it just seems silly.  I'd give examples here, but I'm already boring myself to death.  enough on this topic.

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