"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Books are cool....but why?

I've been reading books a lot this weekend, which in and of itself is unusual and blog-worthy. Most of my reading when I'm at school is confined to scholarly articles and a couple of newspaper pieces. However, I've spent the last few weeks checking quite a few books out of the library. In fact, I'm in the process of transferring every book about anything related to my thesis from the library to my room. I'm starting to run out of space on my book shelf.

Until now, I've been content to admire the books accumulating. This weekend, though, I started reading them. And they are so good. Thus far, I've been reading about some filmmakers whose work relates to my thesis topic - or at least, I hoped it would relate. So I've been elated to discover that it doesn't just relate. It's sparking ideas, pointing to connections, clarifying concepts, and offering leads. And it's so fun to see the idea of my thesis (the biggest idea I've had to come up with during my college education) being confirmed by professional writers and filmmakers. The main thought in my head when I'm reading the analysis of these films is a giant YES!

Aside from assuring me that my thesis actually might work out, these books are just plain interesting. The main topic is the influence of fairy tales in film, but the wider scatter of ideas I'm exploring includes the manifestations of archetype, the role of national culture in a filmmaker's approach to an internationally known story, and the variations on imagery that pervades a certain tradition and even appears across multiple traditions. Things like the use of mirrors to represent split identities, fractured social orders, distorted perceptions, or prescient, omniscient vision. This is just so interesting to me.

At a certain point, though, as I was reveling in all this wonderful literary/cinematic theory, I started to ask myself whether I was appreciating it as a fiction writer or as a critical reader. Do I love this kind of analysis because it inspires me to write a story that plays with mirror imagery, or do I just relish the intellectual thrill of gaining a different perspective on a text or a film or even an entire cultural tradition? And are those two things even separable for me? Because writing - critical writing but also fiction writing - is how I express and explore both the inspiration and the thrill. I think that for me they're intertwined. I could have the desire to write stories without concerning myself with cultural observation and criticism, and I could appreciate literary theory or the academic interpretation of a film without wanting to then create my own stories. But instead, in typical fashion, I want both.

Anyway, enough speculation. Back to my reading. Trust me to start questioning my intellectual standpoint and creative identity while I'm supposed to be working on my thesis.

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