Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Morality and Literature readings

"With any luck, no human being will be knowable in the way that any literary character worth repeated readings is knowable, even given significant variation in interpretation of a single fictional figure as a distinctive character. Suppsoe that one wanted to understand a human being - "Jane" - in the way that one understands Maggie Verner. The seeker of the best interpretation of Jane will need not only to stalk, eavesdrop upon, and interview Jane repeatedly, not only to study Jane's personal correspondence, wardrobe choices, diaries, and photo albums - all in order to approximate the kind of access to Jane that James gives us to Maggie - but having finally acquired and archived all available evidence on Jane, our man will have to see to it that her life ends in order to endure that the thing he has come to known is finished. Otherwise, he risks the ruin of his Jane-interpretation through Jane's vexing change of heart or mind or disposition in response to new circumstances, new events, new knowledge, new love, new experience, new employment, new society - new anything, really. That is partly why the company of a good novel is so much easier to handle than the company of a human being. It is party why one sometimes rereads novels on airplanes in order to avoid conversation with the occupant of the next seat. Many of us became readers in retreat from family, after all. Such surprises and disappointments as novels offer are few, and can be limited and controlled by readings of the same novel."

Candace Vongler / The Moral of the Story
Critical Inquiry Autumn 2007

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