On criticism and explaining away.

As my twitter bio says states “instead of writing my novel, I tweet about how I’m not writing my novel.” When I’m not tweeting about not writing, I’m usually here, writing about my novel. Now, if we’ve managed to get our heads round that…

One of my fears is having to explain my novel to someone. I was always annoyed at school when English lessons took the route of “why did the author do this?” or “the author used the colour _____ as a symbol for what?”. Sometimes I think delving too far into a novel’s meaning takes any enjoyment from it. There is no need to explain the story away.

One of my favourite parts of The History Boys is when they have a discussion about the Holocaust and putting things in context. Posner says: “But to put something in context is a step towards saying it can be understood and explained. And if it can be explained, then it can be explained away.” I feel like this about some critical thinking, you can over analyse it too much and the original sentiment disappears under criticism.

Earlier on, another character, Scripps, says “You can’t explain away the poetry.” which highlights another issue I have with critical thought. A lot of poetry is written in moments of great personal meaning, to explain that away would be like invalidating the poets thoughts. Some poets do make illusions or refer to certain colours and moods, but is this not just part of poetry? There may be no grand scheme behind it.

There is nothing wrong with interpreting novels and poetry in your own way, but I found it very irritating when we were asked to decide why we thought the author had done something. Some people write with no agenda but to tell a good story. Sometimes I feel teachers should just let them do that. Stories are much more exciting when discovered alone, instead of having them forced upon you.


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