History of literary criticism

I can’t think of anything to write about. I just spent a good chunk of time getting my reading done for class tomorrow. It’s a graduate class, all about the history of literary criticism. And I have no idea what anybody’s talking about. When I got accepted into this program to get my MFA in creative writing, one of the professors I talked with suggested that I get this class out of the way as soon as possible.

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And I thought to myself, why? I don’t get it. But now I get it. Because this class is insane. I wish I could even explain how tough it is, but that would require an ability to actually articulate what I find difficult. I don’t even know how to talk about anything. I’m reading these texts, and I’m rereading them, and it’s like, yes, the words are all in English, but nothing makes sense.

Did you know that according to some critics, there’s a difference between a work and a text? Yeah, I have no idea what that means either. And I’m not just throwing my hands up in the air and claiming ignorance. No, I’m really struggling to wrap my head around some way in which this will all make sense. Because I know that this stuff has to be for real. Someone wrote this book that I can’t read. And my professor is making a living teaching it.

So yeah, the problem is with me. But it’s like I thought that admitting that I had a problem would somehow make it better. But it’s not better. Like the relationship between a work and a text (in these anthology textbooks, I feel like so many random words are italicized, for some reason that I just don’t get) is that a text can cut across the work, or several works.

That’s straight out of the textbook, the whole cutting across business. And I’m sitting here and scratching my head and trying to imagine that at some point in time, someone actually had to sit down and write that out. To what end? What’s the point of coming up with all of these ridiculously impenetrable smart-sounding sentences that refuse to make sense in my head?

And it’s just, man, I’m so screwed. Every week we’re supposed to write these one-page response papers based on the reading that week. Last week I handed in my first paper, and I was actually somewhat pleased with myself. I told myself, yeah, I’m smart, I read the readings, I put something smart sounding together. Nice job, Rob.

And then as everyone handed his or her paper in, I saw the person in front of me, she handed in a single-spaced page. I thought to myself, wow, that person’s probably going to be penalized for sticking two pages worth of material onto one. But then I looked around, everyone else had it single-spaced also. “Is this single-spaced?” I asked the professor as I handed mine in. “Yeah …” he told me, and I just kind of stared back at him, like shit, I can’t believe it, how did I miss that?

Because yeah, I went back to the assignment, and it was printed out, “one single-spaced page.” Man, talk about starting off on the wrong foot. And then throughout the course of that class, I realized that the half-page of response I had written down was in fact all garbage. No, I had not understood the reading, and therefore whatever I handed in was similarly way off.

I don’t know, I want to do well, but this is all just so hard. And I have to get this next response paper in by tomorrow, and I’m trying to get something single spaced, which sounds easy, because I write all of this nonsense on this blog every day. But here’s all I have so far:

“Well … you see … it’s just that … the point I’m trying to make is … upon close examination of the reading … it’s obvious that the author was trying to … I mean, after a close interpretation of …”

And it goes on like that for another paragraph or so before whatever cohesiveness existed that managed to even link those words together disappears. In fact, after a while, the Word software sent me a popup message, it said, “Something isn’t right here, please wait while Word runs a diagnostic to make sure everything is OK on our end.”

So yeah, that’s where I’m at. Maybe if I sit up in the front of class, I can cross out the name on that smart girl who sits two seats back, and I’ll write my name in her place. And then when the professor hands them back the week after that, I’ll go up to her, she’ll be holding my paper with her name penciled in on top, hers will say D and mine (really hers) will say A. And I’ll say, “Oooh, too bad. Hey, don’t take it personally. This is some really hard work. Not everybody has what it takes to master the history of literary criticism.”

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