I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how a reader and viewer engages with different media. I remember when I was in secondary school (grade 9-12), one would hear the chant, ‘But why do I have to analyze the book? It ruins it for me?’ And that mantra still holds true for a lot of people. I think that means you were taught wrong. I had some pretty crap teachers, but I was really lucky to have a mom and neighbour that taught me the importance of books, reading, and forming opinions. In addition to that, I had amazing post-secondary professors that opened a whole new world of reading.
For a long time, it was hard for me to read fiction alongside academic sources. Both parts of my brain couldn’t function at once. I like to call that period of time a-bridged. It was hard to do both because I was learning different types of reading. I had to build a bridge between reading fiction and reading critical theory. It was when I learnt that I liked reading in silence at a desk. That may sound incredibly dull, but libraries were the spaces I occupied when I escaped into fictional narratives or discursive accounts of post-revolutionary France. When one is studying, libraries can seem to be this really daunting space. But, I love them. I love carrying all 20 kg of my books to the library, opening all my stationary, placing pens and pencils in a line, taking out my notes, and, depending on the library’s rules, sipping on hot coffee or tepid water. I live for that feeling. I love that I know how the library system worked: HQ for political books relating to women and women in India, NA for art history, B for British History, D-> more history. It is such a good feeling. One of my favourite things is to spend time with a book. I will, on occasion, type notes, but I much prefer to hand write them.
When you read in a library, you fidget and fight the table in front of you and escape into the author’s words. That’s when I started reading fiction in the library. When I was young, I wrote in books. But when I got older, the marginalia became a rite of passion and passage throughout the book. I buy used books (I cannot afford new ones), so I can write in them. It does make my reading time longer than if I skipped it, or perhaps that’s untrue. Indeed, when I write marginalia, I am able to ruminate on a thought or connection and let it go to focus on the next thing.
So, today, I was watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). I remember being obsessed with the film. I would quote it, laugh at its oddities, and revel in its colour scheme. I was a kid. I enjoyed it the way children are meant to enjoy things, without reserve. I flicked to the station that the film was on, so I could have noise as I fed my dog. I started to eat my own breakfast, and I was once again enraptured by the film. There were so many new things that I hadn’t understood when I saw it. It was like I was watching it for the first time, again. Isn’t that the feeling we’re always trying to recapture?
How had I previously not noticed that using one Oompa Loompa to represent an entire Indigenous culture fits neatly into dominant ideas about indigenous peoples and cultures–that others are all the same but different? How had I not noticed the magic of Wonka’s world? It is magic. I love the magic. How had I not noticed that Wonka’s chewing gum is made to seem as though it is made of real food: the chewing gum isn’t artificial flavours that we know–it is told to us that they are real. That is something we can never know.
And so, as I found things both mystifyingly awesome and stupefyingly problematic, I realized that being given the tools to analyze things or question how characters are portrayed, based on race and gender, is not tiring or exhausting. It opens a whole new world and aspect of the story that you’re being told. We should not resist questioning the text, music, or film because we don’t want to kill the thing we love. We should go into these things expecting to be challenged and to challenge. We should teach our children to be filled with curiosity so that the norm is always challenged. Instead, we are taught that stasis is satisfying, desirable, and worth doing anything for. That makes us rigid, and, quite sadly, too exhausted to learn empathy and critical thinking.
As a final note, I’d like to add that you should never be made to feel stupid because you do not have the same education as someone else. Education should not be used to oppress others. If someone purposefully derides you, they are doing it wrong. I have known many people in my life that have had little formal education because it was unavailable to them; they are extremely intelligent and intuitive. These, mostly, women have been the fertile earth that nurtured me. And that is my point, we should teach our children to be filled with curiosity so that they nurture one another. It is important to teach ourselves that we can enjoy things as we think critically about them.
So, to answer my title question: No, you cannot analyze a thing to death, but you can analyze it to life.
Heaps of love,
Serial Posts: I am working my way through Great Expectations to write some posts, and I’m really torn about how to approach it. I am thinking that I am going to have some posts about character development and the gendering of characters, and that I will have a podcast episode about the book as detective fiction.
Misha: I’m sorry I haven’t posted much, recently. It has been quite busy. The warmer weather is a lot of stress on Misha. So, the last little while has been a lot of me ensuring she’s cool and running to her when she’s struggling. Thank you for your patience.