We’re back, and it’s like we never went away. I’m going to change things up today and just talk about why I like literature, and why I think it’s important. A bit egocentric, yes, thanks for pointing that out, but I’m the lit editor so I can do what I want. Unless Mr Prance has me demoted. Entirely possible at this point.
I have to admit, I’ve been a bit lax with my reading of late. It’s become a dirty little secret of mine; things that I know I should read are piling up like my three-week-old laundry pile. It gets like that sometimes – reading becomes something you ought to do, rather than something you want to do.
Before I started writing this article (if you can call this water cannon of consciousness an article), I thought I’d take the time to look up some of my favourite poetry, to remind myself of why I embarked on my passionate love affair with literature in the first place. I landed on You’re Beautiful, by Simon Armitage. I know it’s controversial, but I’m going to put myself out there and say that I think it’s better than the James Blunt version. It was one of the few poems we looked at in class that wasn’t on the syllabus. My teacher played it to us during a lesson once; looking back, probably just as lesson padding, but it’s stuck with me. Armitage’s pleasingly simple lines often come floating to the fore whenever I catch myself being too cynical.
You’re beautiful because you can’t work the remote control.
I’m ugly because of satellite television and twenty-four hour rolling news.
or maybe when I need to reassure myself that others are cynical too;
You’re beautiful for sending a box of shoes to the third world.
I’m ugly because I remember the telephone numbers of ex-girlfriends
and the year Schubert was born.
And it’s very easy to become cynical about literature. In literature tutorials in my first year at university, I really did struggle to grasp the point of discussing the motivations of fictional characters. It did spawn a mini-existential crisis where I questioned the point of being at uni at all (devastating I know, I’ll start a JustGiving page if anyone would like to donate). Becoming disillusioned with your chosen subject is like coming to the sickening realisation that you don’t love someone anymore, and that sooner or later you’re going to have to tell them.
On another, completely unrelated note – and I’m not being sarcastic here, just in case she reads this – I asked my girlfriend what she thought of the poem after I played it to her, and she said that she liked it, but that she didn’t understand the refrain;
Ugly like he is,
Beautiful like hers,
Beautiful like Venus,
Ugly like his,
Beautiful like she is,
Ugly like Mars.
She wanted to know exactly what it meant, what Armitage meant by it. She takes everything too literally. I told her what was most important was how she interpreted the words. She rolled her eyes. I take everything too literary.
Fantastic puns aside, that’s honestly how I feel about literature. What I think gives literature its significance is not what it’s supposed to mean, but what it ignites in you. Isn’t it incredible that one piece of prose, one poem, can mean completely different things to different people? Literature has this delicious contradiction of being an intensely personal, shared experience. I’m interested in what literature does to people; in sharing the personal experience. I’m also interested in making my reading experience personal again. When I was younger, I didn’t worry whether I was reading the right things, or reading it the right way, I just read because I loved reading and how it made me feel. How liberating! I plan on restarting and continuing that tradition. With that in mind, I am really excited about what’s coming up over the next few weeks for PTL Literature; there’s a lot of new things I want to try out, all with an aim to steer away from pretension and towards curiosity.
As for my own interpretation, for me You’re Beautiful is about the struggle between being the person you want to be, and the person that you are. Right now, the person I want to be is enthusiastic and happy. If you haven’t read You’re Beautiful yet, take a look at it – you may read it completely differently, and that’s beautiful too.
Beci Moss is a second year student at Edinburgh University. She studies French and Philosophy. She is also the LITERATURE Editor of Prancing Through LIFE. In her spare time, she likes to cook, bake and blog about it: www.voicimieux.com. One day she hopes to become Mary Berry, and can assure everyone that she never has a soggy bottom.
If you would like to share your tales of literary adventure with us, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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