Majoring in the Humanities?!!

Somehow going into this section of the “Senior Seminar” course when we would be talking about the state of the Humanities, the problems with these “diminishing” majors, the value they have, career paths, etc. I guessed I’d come out with a fresh sense of what I’m going to do once I walk off that stage, diploma in hand.

That was not the case. But I learned something far more valuable. Something I knew all along but could never really put into words. Something I could never fully explain to people who respond to “I’m an English major” with any sort of negative response that sounds a lot more like “What the hell are you gonna do with that degree?”

… my years in college have cultivated me, my character, my personal growth, and I have placed the value of my time and tuition in deeper meaning, in empathy, in hearing the stories of world to better understand LIFE.

When I first applied to Eastern Michigan, I declared Creative Writing as my major and later changed it to the Language, Literature, and Writing program. I found that even though I couldn’t put so much focus on exploratory, creative kinds of writing, I couldn’t get away from the English major. And why? I always explained it by saying, “Oh well I love to read–you know how much I love books–but I also love to write and I’m pretty good at it.” It’s true. I might have caved in a long time ago and turned to a more “sensible” degree if I had not had several fantastic professors encourage me the way they did.

Still the same question haunts me everywhere except in the safety of my English classes and the confidence of a few friends and family: “Are you going to read books for a living? What job will you have?” If the past couple weeks have taught me anything about the beauty of the Humanities it is this: my years in college have cultivated me, my character, my personal growth, and I have placed the value of my time and tuition in deeper meaning, in empathy, in hearing the stories of world to better understand LIFE.

I sit here wondering, how many people would read that and say “I’d never spend all that time and money just for that.” Maybe a lot of you wouldn’t. But I am here to say that I have absolutely no regrets.

I applaud the people out there who know exactly what they want to do, chase after it, and step from the university to their specific job. But I know that for me, it is the exact opposite. I am not going to school with a one-tract mind. I am a writer. And a writer can be everything. It doesn’t matter what I do when I first get out of school, or five, ten, thirty years afterwards. I will be making the world a better place, contributing to my community, advocating for justice, transforming all the theory I’ve learned, all the books I’ve read, all the papers I’ve written into defining and demonstrating the multi-faceted lens with which I see the world. If you think about it, it really boils down to empathy, and somehow I thought that I wasn’t special for possessing such a large store of it. But now I’ve realized that it is a gift I have, one that my journey as a Humanities major has only broadened and strengthened.

… they say that the Humanities have been “under attack” since the 16th century and we’ve not disappeared yet so there must be a reason why.

My colleagues in their presentations have pooled together a large store of doubts, questions, stats, and in the end these are the truths: STEM majors’ unemployment rates are not as significantly lower than Humanities’s as people make it out to be; not learning specific skills for specific fields broadens the range of possible employment opportunities; believing in the values of Humanities and persevering through the doubts of others will keep this kind of knowledge going; because last but not least, they say that the Humanities have been “under attack” since the 16th century and we’ve not disappeared yet so there must be a reason why.

However economically “worthless” they may seem, Humanities programs remind the rest of the world that there is so much more to life (and education!) than working yourself to the grave. I’ve realized that I’m not going to school to get a job. I’m going to school to round myself out in a way I couldn’t have otherwise, doing the things I love, learning about the world, and growing into the person I am and continually evolving to be.

“Bright Purple” Initial Response

Over my university’s spring break I spent time reading through Melody Carlson‘s book Bright Purple: Color Me Confused as it was the first available novel on my list that I would be reading for my project. Going in I had a lot of reservations, knowing that it was a Christian author whose intended audience—as with her other “Color Me” books—is Christian youth. I was weary of the way it would end–what final conclusions would the author make? would those conclusions be written to persuade the audience that that is how issues of homosexuality should be addressed?—as well as how LGBTQ characters would be represented. Still, I had hope going in knowing that because the issue was being discussed—that the lesbian character, Jess, is the best friend of the protagonist, Ramie—that this book would no doubt, in the end, be promoting some form of Christian love.

I couldn’t help underlining and annotating every single page of the book. I have so much I could say! And yet there are key things I know I should hone in on. But first, before diving into the central problem of the novel (“How do I, as a Christian, approach a loved one who comes out as gay?”) I want to acknowledge the strength of intersectionality this book possesses. There are issues of gender when the high school’s girls basketball team is treated as not as worthy of investing in than the boy’s team; class is an issue as Ramie’s family has an economic disadvantage so that her mom is not in position to afford giving her a car, prompting Ramie to consider getting a job instead of playing sports; religion, as it is what tears Ramie initially apart from her best friend; and certainly race, as Ramie herself is biracial—white mom, black dad—giving her some social disadvantages, though she uses her identity as part of a marginalized group to recognize the marginalization of her lesbian friend. In these ways, Bright Purple deals with a bigger, intersectional picture, keeping in mind that there is so much in life that affects people outside of the main conflict in the book: sexuality and religion.

One of the main things I found myself annotating again and again was the self-centeredness of Ramie. From the very first line of book, “My best friend just told me she’s a lesbian. A lesbian!” (7) she does not see Jess’s situation from a vulnerable, brave, trusting coming out point of view. She sees what Jess does only as it impacts Ramie’s own life. To name a few specific places: after receiving the initial news, Ramie thinks “I wish that I’d never met her…Why me? Why does something like this have to happen to me?” (14); Ramie’s outburst to her mother “‘Who deserted who?'” (27) when she is determined to cut off all ties with Jess after Jess’s initial reaching out; then Ramie’s response to her teammates’ negative reaction to Ramie’s voluntary quitting the team because of awkwardness with Jess “This is her fault. She’s the one who brought all this on. But it’s like I’m the one who’s getting tortured here. I’m the one with the friends who are turning against me. I’m the one who lost a spot on the team” (80).

And possibly the most important thing about Ramie’s self-centered point of view is the fact that she is blind to the selfishness and hypocrisy it creates in her character—which is very damaging to non-Christians who look to her as a Christ-like example. However, this does at last come to turn on page 129 after Ramie has left Jess, vulnerable and alone, in the middle of their jeering basketball team after Jess swore at teammates who were harassing her. “I realize that I am the one who threw the first stone into Jess’s life. Oh, not literally. But I was the first one that Jess confided in and, as a result, I was the first one to judge her, to condemn her … to basically hate her. I am ashamed. Really ashamed…But eventually I realize that I will have to do more than just bring this to God.” Which leads to the next chapter where she is able to approach her friend with kindness and love without condoning or affirming her sexuality.

I wanted to post this blog fairly recently after I finished reading the book. But after I had started it, it was just too painful to keep going right away. Flipping through the book over and over again, looking for important quotes to use just really got to me. It was several days ago that I finally wrote down every section of the book I had but a star next to. You know, a little reminder that this part is important. Well it turns out that those important moments took up pages and pages of notebook paper. And even after that, I could start writing this. It was all too heavy on my heart. I am weary to encourage people to read this book because of how emotionally straining it can be. Knowing that while Bright Purple is fiction but that out in the world, people are feeling pain and isolation enough to reject God and/or take their own life is something I—as a very sensitive INFJ—can hardly dwell on for long stretches of time.

That being said, to paraphrase Ramie in so many words, it seems to be the typical, righteous reaction to say that: churches who have marry same-sex couples cannot be traditional Christian churches (23); coming out of the closet is selfish and disorienting to the people around you (34); not wanting to associate with people because they are gay is not homophobia (45); it’s okay to tease people, they “really shouldn’t get offended so easily” (52); being rejected by friend group for not wanting to be near an old best friend is “being persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (80); and someone expressing suicidal thoughts because of orientation is manipulation into making others accept their sin (104).

Whew. That was a lot. And those are just the key points. What I think dejected and hurt me so much reading through this book was the first half when basically what is perceived to be “righteousness” is rejection. Jess is rarely seen at ALL through the first half of the book. We only hear about her and how much Ramie doesn’t want anything to do with her anymore. The book does a pretty good job by the end of showing how important it is to not cast LGBTQ people off just because of their identity.

But there was one major question I had at the end stemming from one fact: Jess is never in a relationship throughout the book and expresses no immediate intention for one. While Jess is identifying herself as a lesbian, there is no acting upon it. Justin Lee wrote a fantastic memoir called Torn (2012) in which he spends the bulk of the book arguing that homosexual identity by itself is not sinful—because you’re not doing anything—and that the debate of sin over homosexuality should actually be over actively seeking sexual relationships or not.

This is a recent development in the ongoing debate in the Church—perhaps too recent for 2006 Bright Purple. But whether or not Christians believe that same-sex relationships are not okay, this book is leaning towards the idea of meeting people where they are at and working from there—not pushing “healing” down people’s throats. So maybe Melody Carlson would agree with this. It certainly does take the effort and respect, however, that orientation is not a choice and therefore unchangeable—something that Ramie does not agree with at the conclusion of the book, saying “That doesn’t mean that God can’t rescue us—from anything. And so I still believe that Jess could be rescued from living the rest of her life as a lesbian…” (203).

Still, with the novel’s conclusion with Ramie’s youth pastor trying to have a respectful panel about Christian and LGBTQ people getting along—which goes completely awry—I believe that though the beginning is full of more hetero-normative, rejecting, and sometimes hateful parts, it does end on a note that says that there is hope for the progression of the future. Because if “they will know that we are Christians by our love” and they are called to reach out to all people, that certainly does not equate to eliminating people completely out of their lives because they have one social/biological/religious difference between them. (Agreeing to disagree is okay!! AKA Third Way) Let’s build each other up in Christ again and not block the gate for those wanting to seek Him.

Senior Project: Reflective Introduction

I remember the day that my Dad came out to me as gay. It was the same day that both he and my Mom had sat me down to tell me that they were getting a divorce. Growing up a very sensitive and emotional daughter in a close-knit family of seven, this news was devastating to me. But I was very lucky in the way everything played out in my time of life–I say that in contrast to my older brother and my much younger sisters. Still in high school on that surreal day, I ended up using that year to come to terms with this new definition of family. And college meant I could enter a liberal sphere where I could figure out what this whole LGBTQ thing was all about.

It has been only in my final year at Eastern Michigan University where I could incorporate my interest in these issues with my projects. And I look forward to this, my senior project, digging not only into something I care so deeply about but also exploring it through literature; I hope it to be not only eye opening for me but for anyone who happens to stumble across this blog.

But I couldn’t just read LGBTQ literature, blindly searching for some sort of theoretical/literary focus. So I decided to take a more controversial route because these specific topics weaving together are not just affecting me and my family, but also countless other people in the world. And what is this added controversy? Christianity.

When I hear that word, Christianity, sometimes I shudder. If someone asks me if I am one, sometimes it’s with reluctance that I say yes. I hate that I feel that, since my spirituality is something so deeply a part of me. But it is this dual-identity of the strong Christian LGBTQ ally that makes this war waging inside my body so violent. But that sounds wishy-washy. Let me explain.

While having a considerable amount of privilege in my “normal American life,” I would count myself as someone on the margins because of this dual-identity of the Christian LGBTQ ally. But why, Jane, on the margins? you might ask. Because being a Christian in America is the assumed majority, right? But being an ally–especially among the Millennial generation–is quickly also becoming the assumed majority. See what I’m getting at? For most people, my dual-identity seems to have a conflict of interests. Two “majorities” that seem to hate each other’s guts. And while I often shield myself from attacks by assuming only one identity at a time and keeping the other under wraps, I personally see no conflict by strongly identifying as both. And I am only an ally. Consider now the LGBTQ Christian themselves.

This is what I plan to be exploring in depth. How the realms of Christians and the LGBTQ communities–note here my plural use, as all these people should not be lumped into one “community”–are working with each other (and against each other) and what this does to the LGBTQ characters’ character development throughout the novels I read. While the general context and growth of society and culture are going to be huge components, the pivotal aspect of this exploration through these books is going to focus on what it looks like at the end of the day for the LGBTQ characters’ situations. Because in the end, they are who this is about.

Looking for books that tackle both of these topics were next to impossible to find. But after several weeks of searching, I’ve found four that I feel will become the foundation for this project. They are as follows: Bright Purple: Color Me Confused (Melody Carlson, 2006), Growing Up Gay (edited by Bennett L. Singer, 1993), Keeping You a Secret (Julie Anne Peters, 2003), and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson, 1985).

Katrina’s Apathy

There is no such thing as an easy read when considering any section of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. In searching for a particular part to digest more fully, I couldn’t help but lean towards something with a more clear background. Something factual. Something historical. Reflecting on previous blogs, I decided to center on the four pages devoted to Hurricane Katrina. Being in grade school at the time of the actual event, there were vague images circulating through my head: muddy floodwaters risen to the peaks of houses, people huddled in a large arena, people who have lost their homes or even their loved ones. Nearly eleven years later, I had to look up what FEMA was, the conditions of the super dome, and various statistics, to get a better understanding of what I was actually reading.

The section is made up of small paragraphs full of quotes of anonymous interviewees of CNN. Some are clearly from the victims’ point of view, shedding transparent light on the situation. However others are completely disconnected, from a privileged outsider’s view–a relief worker, a resident of Texas, viewers of the news. Through the contrast, Rankine sets up criticism against not only on how Hurricane Katrina was handled but also how it is treated and talked about between the classes, the haves and have nots.

The first quotation that struck my attention was one that initially reminded me of an impatient white person: “Faith, not fear, she said. She’d heard that once and was trying to stamp the phrase on her mind. At the time she couldn’t speak it aloud. He wouldn’t tolerate it. He was angry. Where were they? Where was anyone? This is a goddamn emergency, he said.” (83) If the man is white, I read his anger stemming from an expectation of justice. If his population is the victim–which he so rarely is–it appears more comic, that he isn’t used to feeling abandoned. And then I thought to myself, but what if I have it backwards? I read it again and the woman character, as she changed from black to white, it moved from hesitance to encourage a white man to fearful of the angry black man. And as a man of color he seemed to now be saying, “Out of all the injustice I have seen, all the pain, all the hurt, this national natural disaster is when I thought someone would notice enough to label it a ‘goddamn emergency.'” It is still a cry out for justice, but not a self-centered one. Just the phrase “where were they?” sounds like a collective question, though in a white voice I hear the same words inquiring after only himself. And it is this collectiveness, this asking for the people around you and not just yourself that also points to class, to a less privileged, individualized lifestyle. With this discrepancy of expectation in mind I read two pages later: “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, she said, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” (85) When looking back on the actual conditions of the super dome, I grapple with the appalling apathy and the inhumane perception of these hurricane victims who just happen to be of a lower class than those working on the relief. In an article posted by CNN last year marking a decade since Katrina, the arena was compared to a concentration camp. Where is the justice, the “working very well for them” in that?

Being so young in 2005, I had no idea there was any kind of neglect that could have been prevented. But in reading Citizen there was so much that read like white authorities washing their hands of the situation. “And someone said, where were the buses? And simultaneously someone else said, FEMA said it wasn’t safe to be there,” (84) sounds like a quick interchange between a CNN reporter and someone in the background. There’s the privileged expectation of the outside reporter–buses should be there–and the underprivileged truth–government pulls out and leaves the people to fend for themselves. And then there’s a lack of followup: “We never reached out to anyone to tell our story, because there’s no ending to our story, he said. Being honest with you, in my opinion, they forgot about us.” (84). Hearing that I also think, what privileged audience wants to hear that people’s stories haven’t been finished or resolved yet? What government wants to admit their failings and broadcast it? “we are drowning here / still in the difficulty / as if the faces in the images hold all the consequences” (85) These lines of poetry, protruding from a mostly prose text, uses the white space to create the pause, to not brush over the fact of the present term “still” when talking about the difficulty. And “the images,” the victims, are framed for their lack of resources to save face for the white authorities.

Before the section closes there is a part that repeats itself a couple times, something between prose and poetry: “He said, I don’t know what the water wanted. It wanted to show you no one would come. He said, I don’t know what the water wanted. As if then and now were not the same moment.” (85-86) The speaker personifies the water, preying on the vulnerable, the people it’s easier for other people to forget about. But more than anything is that last sentence: “As if then and now were not the same moment.” This is loudest cry to recognize that while slavery is in the past, while the Civil Rights Movement is in the past, while Katrina is in the past, the failure of our government, our country to maintain justice is the same. It may look different, the waters may have dried up, but the privileged people are as comfortable being ignorant and/or apathetic towards the those they’d rather not think about.

While the criticism of the differing views of classes and the failure of the government’s relief of Katrina’s destruction are more distinct entities to blame, I see Citizen giving the common American citizen their due. First we have a voice from someone more closely affected, most likely a citizen of Texas: “What I’m hearing, she said, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas” (84) compared to a victim’s account later down the page: “It’s awful, she said, to go back home to find your own dead child. It’s really sad.” I hear that last sentence and there is no way to imagine the pain in the mother’s face, but I can hear her heaving sobs. And yet, this Texan thinks it is “scary” that people might come to where she’s at and not want to go back home. She takes no time to empathize, to wonder what they might be coming home to, like that mother did. Instead she thinks about her own convenience and what else? Her own safety? Whether the “they” she refers to are underprivileged people or people of color–or, good heavens, both–there is a clear separation of herself from them…from hurricane survivors! Why not open your doors? Why not provide real relief?

From here I read the reactions of the apathetic privileged citizens through the descriptions of the media. “Then his aestheticized distancing from Oh my God, from unbelievable, from dehydration, from overheating, from no electricity, no power, no way to communicate” (85). I read this as someone watching too many violence or horror films and how people become desensitized. That the news is carried through a medium that also feeds the consumer entertainment, the coverage on Katrina grows into a spectacle that becomes less and less important the further you live from it. What can it affect you? If anything, it should be affecting the head, the heart, the human soul. Not only class but geographical distance becomes a privilege and the reality of the crisis becomes foggy as fact looks more like fiction. And then the media turns fact and fiction on its head: “The fiction of the facts assumes innocence, ignorance, lack of intention, misdirection; the necessary conditions of a certain time and place.” (83) “… and the fiction of the facts assumes randomness and indeterminacy.” (85) Citizen repeats this phrase “the fiction of the facts,” calling out the authorities covering for each other, to blind the people, to keep them ignorant and apathetic, to not dig too deep into the chaos of Katrina, to keep the classes apart and disconnected. They may try to wash their hands of it, but Rankine won’t let their hands ever completely dry. The residue of what was left undone remains.

 

A Citizen’s Social Class

Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen is woven together with numerous social factors intersecting: race, status, gender, age, geography, and specific events in history. While some pages read high with tension between people, reading it through for me has felt more like an individual experience. And all of the tension is building up in one person. Sometimes that person is me. Sometimes that person is who I’ve stepped into shoes with. Sometimes that person is someone I view from a distance, from across the page, because I feel I have no right to feel what they feel and see what they see. But the tension builds between two shoulders, belonging to the same body.

While having a certain degree of privilege, I have felt what it is to go without. And nothing increases going without like the stark reality of money, or lack thereof. But in comes the world and so factors of class aren’t just based on how much you have and how much you don’t. It’s called socio-economic status for a reason.

Looking through Citizen with this in mind–a Marxist theory lens, if we’re being technical–there are signs not only of race privilege but also economic privilege. Near the beginning there is a passage that gives no specific mention of race or dollar amounts but the reality of social class is evident: “You are reminded of a conversation you had recently, comparing the merits of sentences implicitly with ‘yes, and’ rather than ‘yes, but.’ You and your friend decided that ‘yes, and’ attested to a life with no turn-off, no alternative routes…” (8). Where race and class intersect, it can spiral to a fierce reality that the majority of middle and upper class white populations cannot comprehend as they continue to bellow this pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-I-did-it ideology.

Though no specifics of the Trayvon Martin case are given in the two pages of prose poetry dedicated in memory of him within Citizen, in reading it I cannot forget than he was killed while on the phone in a white gated community. Maybe his murderer would have acted similarly no matter where they were, but I feel that there is specific aggression towards an “other” when in the presence of wealth. And why must it be assumed that the wealthy are in more need of protection than those with any amount that is less than? The repetition in “these brothers, each brother, my brother, dear brother, my dearest brothers, dear heart–” (89) in that sentence and throughout the whole passage there is an enlargement of the scope of not just familiarity and love but deep connection, foundation, community, worth. These people are worthy, separately and as a whole, but Citizen shows again and again how society’s skewed perception turns this truth on its head and leads to things like Martin’s murderer being acquitted.

But hardly anywhere in the text did I feel the weight of class and poverty as much as I did in the passage on Hurricane Katrina. On page 85, several voices speak: “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, she said, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them. / You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals, so many of these people almost all of them that we see, are so poor, someone else said, and they are so black. / Have you seen their faces?” Underprivileged anyway? Working well for them? I feel a hit to the gut as I stared at the thin, black letters in a sea of white space, trying to imagine such apathy.

This book is to point out those white “anyways” and the double interpretations of what “some-white-one” is really getting chills from: the poverty or the blackness? This book is for that last line: “Have you seen their faces?” I read it as a call to lift up what has been dehumanized. I read it as an equalizer: I have a face and you have a face, so look your sister in the eye. I read it as an individual empowerment, because no two faces are exactly alike. As the tension builds inside of us because of the ways the world presses on us, we are each made to stand, no matter how we are painted by social factors like wealth and poverty.

 

Privilege Blinders: a reading of Rankine’s “Citizen”

As an introvert, I like to think of myself as someone who sees more than other people do–and by “other people” I mean the extroverts. As a white person, however, it is books like Claudia Rankine’s Citizen that make me question how much I actually see. And while the early years of college filled me with white guilt after coming from a very white hometown, I see it more now of my blindness being more attributed to privilege than any sort of willful looking-the-other-way.

Still, despite my privilege I do count myself as someone who sees people, unlike the man on page 77 of Citizen, “The cashier says, Sir, she was next. When he turns to you he is truly surprised. / Oh my God, I didn’t see you. / You must be in a hurry, you offer. / No, no, no, I really didn’t see you.” What struck me most on reading this was the man’s ignorance of his not seeing her as equally–or more–rude as cutting in front of her would be. He confirms her invisibility. And I have seen that. I have been that cashier.

Shortly after this short account is given, the book transitions into a series of prose-poems that are titled after the dates and names of black men involved in controversial crime. Out of the five specific cases, only one involves a white victim, and the white victim wasn’t killed. How close is this ratio to actual statistics? How opposite is this ratio to the white people who assume danger and shudder when their kind is doing most of the shooting?

We have talked about literature giving us knowledge. This book of poetry and essays gives that knowledge; the kind that drags you further out of the hole of ignorance that you have either dug yourself into or were born inside. And not wanting to slip any further back, I googled each of these five dates and the names of the victims, because I didn’t know any of them. And I read the descriptions of the crimes, the timelines of the cases, and the sentences of those accused or acquitted before reading the poetry. I have often prided myself over the fact that I do not have a television in order to have seen the news. But what does it mean when I recognize the name “Ferguson” but none of the ones in this book?

Amidst these entries is a personal account much like the short snippets earlier in the book. Throughout Citizen I had grown accustomed to the second person address and the “you” more often than not identifying as the voice of an anonymous black person. In “Stop-and-Frisk” it begins with an “I” and the “I” voice is pulled over and the “I” voice is told to get out of the car and keep his hands in sight. And here and there are the words, “And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.” And I don’t know why but it wasn’t until this section’s second page that I realized I had been reading it wrong. I thought the “I” was a white man who had injured or killed the “you” innocent black man thinking the “you” was a criminal, thereby the “I” taking the law into his own hands. I thought the police had pulled over the right person.

When I realized my mistake I went back and read it over, now realizing that the “I” and the “you” are the same–the “you” being the man reflecting to himself. And I read with disgust as the man who was just driving home from work was pulled over, dragged away, and made to walk home from the station. I am by no means completely ignorant of this kind of thing happening, but privilege hides its frequency from me. What can I do to truly see? I cannot scrub this privilege off myself but I have no wish to be blind. What can I do besides simply finishing the rest of this book? As of yet, I don’t know.

Felski: Enchantment & Knowledge

It is easy for Lit majors to turn to each other and readily admit that sometimes the best way to learn about the world is through reading fictional books. Take this to pretty much any other setting and the idea somehow becomes laughable. If fiction is made-up and the mere creative whim of an author, how can it be any source of credible knowledge?

What I think puts this pursuit of knowledge–whether someone is reading for study or for pleasure–on such shaky ground is this imbedded presence of enchantment. Theorist Rita Felski delves into several claims about literature in her book Uses of Literature, among which are both knowledge and enchantment. In a rush of history, theories, and groups of critics left and right that leaves the reader a little baffled, the pervasive idea of the “Enchantment” chapter centers on this “need” of stripping enchantment so that literature becomes credible in studying it. “If enchantment is to be rendered a plausible concept for literary and cultural theory, it needs to be pried away from such romanic-messianic vision and acknowledged as part of modernity rather than antithetical to modernity” (67). Like many other statements in her book, swimming through her text makes it difficult to tell whether Felski is affirming this argument or just giving it for history’s sake.

Still, Felski seems to find enchantment important enough to devote an entire chapter to it. She lists an unbiased(?) definition of enchantment near the beginning, saying it “is characterized by a state of intense involvement, a sense of being so entirely caught up in an aesthetic object that nothing else seems to matter” (54). This response to the appearance of someone having “lost themselves” in a book is not just typical to critics but also teachers, parents, and virtually anyone who demands a reader’s attention. Anyone who has been gripped by a book has felt this and been irritated by it.

Having “lost ourselves” sounds like being too enthralled in a text to make judgments and uphold beliefs and opinions while reading it. But Felski does seem to argue against this idea. “Readers and viewers…are always involved in translating signs into imaginary scenarios, responding to subtle textual cues, filling in the blanks, elaborating and expanding on what a text gives us” (75). Everything else aside, Felski using “us” sounds like she’s more on board with enchantment than her critical peers. And this is what I think adds more weight to how she continues to talk about literature in the next chapter: Knowledge.

Again Felski goes through multiple perspectives, most of which see nothing like credible knowledge to gain from literature. But then she goes into this idea of negative knowledge. While I couldn’t quite get a firm grip of what she means, she does equate negative knowledge to the opposite of mimesis–imitation or mimicry–which appears to be backing up literature as something of worth in and of itself, and not just as a narrative’s adaptation of real life.

She then says that “Literature’s relationship to worldly knowledge is not only negative or adversarial; it can also expand, enlarge, or reorder our sense of how things are” (83). I loved that term “reorder” because it’s true, sometimes literature doesn’t give us new knowledge or facts, but it can reorder how we see the world. So does enchantment delude this, so that a reader might see things as “reordered” that are only fictitious manipulation?

I can certainly see an argument for that, but surely in this day in age manipulations–or mere poetic license–of a decent size would be debunked. Jane Austen’s books can pull a reader in and teach about the history of an era while we have in the back of our minds that the Napoleonic Wars were going on at the same time and aren’t mentioned. Téa Obreht’s “The Tiger’s Wife” informs a western reader of recent events in the Baltics while  entertaining an old man’s supernatural stories as “truth.” It may be impossible to sway some stoic people into the realm of literary enchantment and knowledge’s compatibility, but these two forces are, more often than not, the very drive that cause readers to become Lit majors in the first place. We are personally engrossed but always searching for personal growth.