Between knowledge and entertainment

History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake.

-James Joyce, Ulysses

I really think that the time I’ve spent reading Tristram Shandy was a colossal waste. Laughing only three times from more than 700 pages is not a good batting average. I don’t blame anyone for it, especially because I could have dropped and stopped reading the novel anytime, but I didn’t.

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This was actually my position when I was reading Tristram Shandy: a reading-cum-facepalm

I am really wondering whether this stupidity persistence with finishing everything I started is a boon or a bane: on one hand, I could speak without guile that I loved or hated the literary work because I totally finished it; on the other hand, however, I could have spent that time exploring and reading other works of literature which I could have liked. It is certain that I could have spent the time reading Tristram Shandy doing other stuff, perhaps my academic requirements.

Do I, then, regret my completion of the novel?

No, I do not.

For one thing, the incident has recalled to my attention the disparity between the British culture and the culture anywhere else in the world. Sterne entertained a lot of British people with his droll and dryly humorous writing; because of this general consensus, I was wondering whether I was simply reading the novel wrong. I didn’t laugh (at least, as much as I believed I should have), and as I have mentioned in my previous post, I did not understand most of the references. Even if the novel dealt with sexual intercourse profusely, it remained to me an enigma as to why anyone other than British people could love the novel. I certainly didn’t.

I asked my English professor for some help and insight. I have my opinions, and I stick by them most of the time, but it helps when I compare my perceptions with that of someone more knowledgeable than me: it was serendipity that allowed me to meet with my literature professor of three semesters; I decided to utilize the meeting as a forum where I asked this professor of mine questions regarding literature.

I asked about British literature. It seems that Woolf was not the only prominent chronicler of boredom (and creator of it as well): here was Sterne, 200 years before Woolf, writing about boredom and supposed fun (which I was never able to consistently find in his novel). My professor told me that most British writers write very dry literature. What is humorous to them, he told me, is often boring to the rest of the world. He continued that Tristram Shandy was a great comic masterpiece only to the British. He also found it boring.

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It was from this I realized that I should read for pleasure (if nothing has been required in the first place). My professor added (as I asked him regarding Robbe-Grillet) that the writers I have mentioned wrote majestically and were masterful with their styles. As to their being eminently readable, however, is another thing.

Tristram Shandy was a boring novel, and so was Jealousy (no, you do not need to read these novels). They are classics in their own right, but I just didn’t enjoy them.

This was the concluding point of my professor: why read difficult novels just for fun? While I reasoned out that they were the ones that most often possess a lot of depth or meaning (which I am searching for) he reasoned out that even simpler novels could have those two as well. Extending the analogy to anime, why watch Ergo Proxy when one can attain the same level of contentment and knowledge found in Honey and Clover?

It was a very good point of his: this is the reason for this catharsis of mine. He told me to read what I wanted, and not only read because I wanted to expound my knowledge. As I have said before, one can inform as well as entertain: these two actions are not mutually exclusive.

I’ll try doing that. I have done so in my anime watching and I hope to do so to reduce this self-imposed burden on myself.

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11 Responses to “Between knowledge and entertainment”

  1. Lelangir Says:

    “While I reasoned out that they were the ones that most often possess a lot of depth or meaning (which I am searching for) he reasoned out that even simpler novels could have those two as well. Extending the analogy to anime, why watch Ergo Proxy when one can attain the same level of contentment and knowledge found in Honey and Clover?”

    you said “a lot of meaning” but then just said “those two” not regarding the quantity so while I usually bitch and moan about form over content, this time, since the form is the same, content is paramount. Serendipity. etc. etc.

  2. Michael Says:

    Yeah, I needed to clear that up.

    The ones I mentioned that possessed a lot of depth and meaning was from the point of view of the general consensus. Most of the time, a general agreement or disagreement of the people is a good starting block. My professor argued that even those supposedly simpler novels can have as much or even more meaning. It is because meaning solely emanates from the reader/observer/viewer. Meaning is infinite in that microcosm (using lelangir’s words) of the novel, it’s just that more meaning has been uncovered in some works than in others.

    Lelangir pointed to me regarding Barthes’s serendipity theory, and he generally shares my beliefs. But I think we’ve cleared that up –

  3. Lelangir Says:

    NO “SERENDIPITY THEORY” IS MIINNEEEE. Barthes coined lots of stuff but not that.

  4. Michael Says:

    Oh, my bad. So you mean that was ORIGINAL CONTENT!? I’m really sorry.

  5. Baka-Raptor Says:

    You had to kick it off with James Joyce…

    Apparently there was a huge depth vs. entertainment debate in the anime blogging community a while back. I don’t see why you should have to choose, but if I did, I’d come out squarely on the side of entertainment. The way I see it:

    Depth – Entertainment = Work

    And nobody likes work.

  6. korosora Says:

    Ummmmm, get the to a nunnery.
    And have fun with the fun nuns.

  7. meganeshounen Says:

    If a writer’s ideas were oranges, then for me, classics are kinda like those packets of super concentrated orange juice powder. A bit too deep for me, and I need to dilute them in some other “medium” just to appreciate them.

    A smaller example of the above analogy: some of the anime that have been turned into anime, like “Romeo and Juliet”.

    Mind you, I did understand the underlying plot of “Romeo and Juliet”. I think.

  8. Michael Says:

    OMG

    MEGANESHOUNEN HAS COME BACK

    OMG

    KOROSORA TOO!

    /me touches everyone

    korosora:

    No, I’ll just get me to another nunnery. The one with the hot girls and all. :>

    meganeshounen:

    Some classics I’ve encountered are also quite impenetrable. Seriously. There are some that play with the reader too much, and I hate that. 🙁

  9. meganeshounen Says:

    Well, if it takes a classicist to read classic novels…

    … birds of the same feather? LOL

  10. Michael Says:

    meganeshounen:

    That was a horrible, horrible joke.

    Baka-Raptor:

    Because James Joyce speaks sense sometimes!

    Good point. I’m actually only seeing that now.

  11. Ryan A Says:

    Life-lesson rings similar to “lightning finds the shortest path.” Some things just are, in our perceptive realities, greater or less, than what we wished to find on our endeavors.

    I like the message ^^

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