So, I have a B.A. in English. In college I primarily studied poetry with 20th Century American poetry probably being my main emphasis. When people find out about my educational background, this thing happens - suddenly they want to talk to me about books and writers. I don't know why this is. Maybe it's because they feel intimidated by someone who has read a lot and is generally awesome in every way (I had to make that last sentence as condescending as possible). Maybe they want to prove to me that they are readers too and want me to tell them what they read is good like I'm some kind of judge in Reading Court (Danielle Steel? I sentence you to thirty years of tickle rape in Reading Prison). After they tell me about what they read, a round of assumptions begins where they automatically assume I like certain writers, and it's always the same ones, a list of four people who are considered some of The Giants of Literature (that should echo when you read it).
What's a Giant of Literature? Well, I'll start off by saying the study of literature is kind of silly. It takes something that is totally subjective and tries to make it objective. Literary critics love to divine things from writings that they can't possibly know with any degree of certainty, and above all, they love to put writers on pedestals. With a few exceptions (Bob Dylan...The Beatles...Robert Johnson) pedestals make me nervous, but literary critics love them. This writer is considered the greatest or the epitome of this style. When I say Harlem Renaissance then people think Langston Hughes. Italian literature = Dante. Literature is riddled with pedestals and writers who are on them. These are the Giants of Literature, and people assume I like them because I've studied literature. Indeed, some I do like, but some I don't. The following four are ones I don't like all that much or at all.
Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?
Shakespeare is THE GREAT BARD to many. His name transcends the field of literary study and is known in circles outside academia. Everyone has read Shakespeare at one point in their life. This makes Shakespeare one of the most revered writers in all of literature. The funny thing is, Shakespeare wasn't critically acclaimed during his lifetime. Sure, he received some praise as a playwright during his lifetime, but the critical reverence came much later. During the end of the 1700's some scholars praised Shakespeare's works and educators in England scrambled to add Shakespeare to required required reading. With the 1800's came Romanticism, and Shakespeare's stock soared because so many of the great Romantic poets were versed in his works. As time went on, Shakespeare's name and legend grew and now you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the world who doesn't know the name William Shakespeare. Of all the literary pedestals that exist, Shakespeare's is by far the tallest.
For me, Shakespeare is not THE GREAT BARD. He is Wilie the Shake or Bill. For an English major to say they don't like Shakespeare is a trespass that threatens excommunication in some circles. The fact is that I used to HATE Willie the Shake. You could say the name Shakespeare and I would spit. Someone once told me they thought there were no original stories to tell because Shakespeare had written them already. The cited Hamlet as their evidence and said, "That play has every element of storytelling in it." Fuck that, I say! If Joseph Campbell taught us anything it's that the kinds of characters and stories Shakespeare told were already established and dominate in the storytelling of cultures long before Shakespeare even took up the quill. We can reduce most stories into basic archetypal elements and trace those elements back to folklore, to epics, and to myths that existed long before Shakespeare did. Just because Shakespeare wrote Hamlet doesn't mean he invented literature. It just means he wrote a great play. I agree with the idea that know original stories exist anymore, but I don't think we can attribute that to any one writer. For the most part when people hear a story or see a movie they expect certain things to happen. When we see a damsel in distress tied to railroad tracks we expect to see the hero swoop to save her. It's a cliche', but when it comes down to it I believe all stories are just a variation of cliche's. And in addition, my views on Shakespeare have changed somewhat. I like him more than I used to. He was a great writer who did a lot of deliberate things in his work, but I still want to knock him off his pedestal.
I'm the guy that wrote that one poem from Dead Poet's Society
Walt Whitman occupies the pedestal "Epitome of American Poetry," and any time I bring up my love for American poetry, this is the guy people ask me about. I'm just not a fan at all. I have petty problems with Whitman - his poems are too long for my taste, it feels like he's just making a grocery list with the heading "America Is Cool Because," and a lot of other stupid reasons - but I have one main problem with his work. I don't think it was distinctly American. For one thing, America wasn't very old when Whitman started writing his stuff. Much of the way we approached a lot of different things including literature were imitations of what was going on elsewhere. Henry James and Herman Melville wrote fiction in the style that was dominate in England at the time. Whitman was no exception to this kind of emulation. His style is a massive echo of the Romantics. For me, American Literature didn't really become distinctly American until after The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the beginning of Modernism. The language became less heightened and the subject matter become more introspective and interest...just my opinion though. At any rate...I think Whitman needs knocked off his pedestal too.
I was a poet and nobody knowed it...tehehehehe.
My god I hate Emily Dickinson! And what's sad is I have no good reason for disliking her so much beyond a couple of really basic and superficial reasons. First, I think her stuff his fucking boring. I would rather find something interesting about wallpaper paste than have to read Dickinson's stuff. The other reason is (and I hope I don't ruin Dickinson for those of you who might like her stuff) that you can take the melody to "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and sing the lines of her poetry to it, and it syncs perfectly. Try it. Here's the first stanza from "I heard a fly buzz" -
I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves and storm.
Did I just blow your mind? It works with pretty much all her poems. I've tried it with dozens of them. Before I came to this realization I could read her stuff. I didn't like it, but I could read it. Now, I can't even read them because of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" thing. It forever ruined them for me.
Emo before it was cool...
I'm not going to discredit Poe for his writing. He was good at it. I just could never get into the mood or subject matter of his stories. I'm also not going to discredit Poe's contribution to literature by saying, "Well, he was more like the Stephen King of his time." I actually think Poe did some good things for literature. For instance, he really pioneered the short story. Before him fiction was relegated to novels. Poe came along and thought there needed to be something for someone who didn't have the attention span for novels. He conceptualized the short story and even wrote an essay defining what short story should be and how it should function. Poe is another writer I just don't like for no good reason. I just find his work uninteresting.