Yesterday I tried to explain to an acquaintance of mine, a math student, how I’m writing a paper linking several unrelated literary texts to each other using gender relations. It was a difficult concept for him to grasp, as he kept asking how I found “evidence” for what I was writing. When I said I had to use the texts to support my claims, I could tell it wasn’t nearly objective (or academic!) enough for him.
I’ve had this conversation before. I can understand where people come from when they question the merit of doing something so completely subjective – in literary essays, as long as you can support your claims decisively, you can claim just about everything and anything. Yet I do feel that what I am doing in my studies is relevant to the world. Stories shape how we see the world, often without us thinking about them. I like delving into narratives, seeing what is behind the plot, and analyzing the story’s (implicit or explicit) claim about how the world should be. I like it when a simple story challenges my way of thinking and forces me to examine my own assumptions.
Sometimes I think it would be nice if the paradigm 2+2=4 could be applied to literature as well, but mostly I enjoy the ambiguity of literary texts. It leads to many different interpretations, and teaches me something more about the world and how other people view the world. Being able to interpret life from a multiple viewpoints seems like a very useful skill to have in this diverse world.