Did I dress up for Halloween? Not really. I always wear black and I’m wearing black today, so I basically look the same as I do every other day of the year. My costume is on the inside.
I had a couple of interviews published over the weekend, and in the comments of one, a reader tried to inform me that I was in error to have a “personal” interpretation of a piece of literature. This reader informed me that I was missing or ignoring the “universal meaning” of the book in question. Well, holy shit. My surprised face, let me show you it.
This idea is not new to me. After all, I have a couple literature degrees, so I’ve spent plenty of years in intellectual servitude to the “universal meaning” of literature that any given professor espoused. When it was for a grade, I could regurgitate the meaning I was supposed to have absorbed from a novel, play, poem. I could reproduce the meaning traditionally ascribed to the author of the piece.
Once I got free, however, I started having my own interpretations of meaning that didn’t require me to check in with anybody else, including the author. It was a pretty radical experience, even inside my head, to not check in with the dominant cultural point of view as I read. Having been trained to view books from that POV, though, it’s easy to slip back into that mode. To have discussions about literature based on the perspective of middle-aged upper class white men.
I almost let it happen this weekend, but then I remembered that I hadn’t read Lolita as a middle-aged upper class white man. I read Lolita as a working class pre-pubescent girl. While it’s all well and good for Nabokov to have had specific intentions, I was under no obligation to feel what he wanted me to feel. I experienced the book from my own particular perspective, one distinctly different from the received wisdom about the “meaning” of Lolita.
So today, on the inside, I’m the default reader. My interpretation of a book’s meaning is valid. If you want, you can join me in being the default reader. It’s easy and it doesn’t require grease paint. Just go through the day feeling confident that your perspective and interpretation of any piece of literature is correct. If we make it through today, we’ll try again tomorrow, until it’s not a costume.
And if you’re curious, my two interviews are here:
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