Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"It's Complicated"

When you live in a black and white world, you have black and white thoughts and split the world into black and white things, even if they really aren't. When confronted with an idea or a person who doesn't fit into an either-or category, the black-&-white thinker will either moralize the issue or somehow find a way to rationalize stuffing the colorful bit into one of the two modes of being.

It would be nice if the world were so simple. Honestly, it's easier to live and know what to believe when you don't have to wrestle with the complexities of any situation, if the world can be reduced so easily. If literature has taught me one thing, however, it is that the world is complicated. The simplest interpretation is rarely the only one, or even the best one.* Maybe I'm just defending my discipline, but there are reasons that we keep reading Milton, Keats, Byron, Donne, Shakespeare.** When a writer's life and circumstances are complex, then (reasonably) their writing (if it's any good) should also be complex. I like unanswered questions in books. Does Hamlet love Ophelia? I don't know, but we can discuss it!***

I don't mind disagreeing with fellow students, or having them disagree with me. It's all part of the messy, fun, complicated world of literary studies.

All of this discussion of literature is just a segue into a deeper topic: my mother. As someone grounded firmly in the world of literary studies and who doesn't mind having unanswered questions, I am baffled to discover that my own mother thinks in such stark, boxy terms. Things are wrong, or they're right, and there is no middle ground. In her mind, there is no room for possible complex interpretations: perhaps so-and-so meant this, but it ended up like that.

I, however, dislike simple interpretations (except where warranted). Thus, I cannot agree totally with conservative politics, which often label ideas, peoples, and events as "good" versus "evil" (*ahem, Bush*). My mind does not allow me to make things out so simply. My mother, on the other hand, reduces the world to simplistic terms and refuses to acknowledge that it could be more than what she thinks. With the introduction of "faith", we add a new level to her perspective. When she says, "I follow what my morality and faith lead and that's it...if God wouldn't approve then neither do I...", she makes sure I know that my political leanings place me on the opposing side, and I am caught once more in the world of duality.

I realize that I'll never be able to convince her otherwise. I hate that she reduces my own beliefs, faith, and perspectives to her simplistic world-view, but what can I do? I think that if she'd just affirm that while she does not agree with me, she still feels my perspective is valid, then perhaps I'd not feel so defensive and trapped around her. But that validation would require her to see the world in wider terms, which I'm uncertain will ever happen. Such is life.****

*Though, sometimes it is.

**Besides the fact that they are damn fine books. Oh, and the words sound so nice.

***Most of the time, I think he does. Occasionally, and when viewing a really good production, I have to wonder though. Perhaps he's too absorbed in his own mind to really love anyone. Or perhaps he only puts that front on because he loves too much and wishes to protect Ophelia from his tortured mind...

****I foolishly cling to hope that she'll one day wake up and notice other colors besides black and white. It can't be helped. We must always believe that the ones we love can learn and grow. Meanwhile, I remain frustrated by her fundamentalism and reductionism.

1 comment:

trashalou said...

Heard an interview with V.S. Naipul today on BBC radio 4. He is very anti literature analysis and interpretation as a study. Odd I thought given literature has been his career.

Might be interesting if you can track it down on bbc listen again.