The Professional Reader #2 - Tools

The Professional Reader #2 - Tools

Part one of this essay explored the remit of the professional reader within the contemporary organisation, click here to read. This section is in early draft mode.

Whenever production methods change, or technology evolves, scientific paradigms shift, culture metamorphoses, or when one generation or dynasty succeeds another: literary forms responds. Whether it is sonnets, detective novels, comic books - all hold the memory of the change that prompted their emergence.

In short, the literary provides a set of tools, crafted over millennia, that can be used in any situation.

In this section we will glance over some of the major topics that fall under the literary umbrella. Whilst there is a treasure chest of concepts, we have chosen some of the heavyweights.

The Literary

We have been using the term throughout this essay, but what is the ‘literary’?

We could answer this by surveying the history of literary analysis. It might start with how the ‘New Critics’ of the early twentieth century analysed literature as timeless, aesthetic, life-enhancing, transcendent, organic and self-contained. Then it might move to how cultural shifts such as psychoanalysis, feminism, eco-criticism, post-colonialism, queer theory, Marxism and so on demonstrated that a text is not self-contained but embroiled in history. We can call this the classroom approach.

An alternative approach to understanding the literary might be to meditate upon keywords associated with the domain of literature: things like war, plague, tragedy, ghosts, desire, character and so on. We can call this the salon approach.

And a third approach might be to look at the tools of literary analysis such as the hermeneutic circle, interior monologues, narrative focalisation and so on. We can call this the workshop approach.

Ultimately though, the literary realm is shrouded in mystery. No-one knows where the literature project (if project is the right word) is headed. Any attempt to define it is futile. There is no stable overarching definition of ‘literature’. There is always a feeling that there is something more yet-to-come.

The Poem

How do we approach a poem? Do we read a poem like a book? Hear it like a song? Play it like a game? Solve it like a puzzle? Move around it like a sculpture? View it like a painting? Fondle it like a pebble? Follow its weave like a rug? Mine it like a dataset? Hack it like code?

Or do we focus on the the lives and thoughts of the poet? These are often as rich as their works. By tracking their essays, biographies, and influences, we can observe the growth and workings of the poetic mind. Their self-reflective essays provide deep mediations on the process of creation

Poets deal in pre-cognition: prophecy and clairvoyance. They dance between mysticism and materiality. Poetic thinking involves epiphany, brevity, silence and the experience of emotionally urgent language.

But today, as rebel poet Linton Kwesi Johnson explains, poetry is a cultural weapon. It motivates and it incentivises.

The Novel

Novels created culture.

They are polyvocal: putting many voices inside our head, strengthening our ability to apprehend others. They are complex, flexible, and unique. Filled with playful experimentation: they are formally inventive. As their name suggests, they are spaces for novelty. They are self-consciously aware of their own fictive and unreal nature: and through this falsity they offer their truth. They have a fluid domain of themes with which they encapsulate human experience. Novels know things, they are self-contained worlds with a beginning, middle and end.

Fiction is capacious, and thus suited to represent the mind at work. To map the comingling of consciousness and the world. Through it we read experience being processed, emotion being felt, and passion being performed.

Novels emerged from reportage: letter writing and journalism. And, over 400 years, they have been responding to the world. Engaging with history, spurring dialectical thinking. Mutating: proving themselves resilient, malleable, and adaptive. They link philosophy and history, getting them to dance together (often in weird ways). They colour abstraction with details. They portray social systems in motion: especially patriarchal, colonial, capitalist, and disciplinary systems. They equip us to inspect individual, social and moral health. They train our own reflexivity. Make us better observers of our world: helping us see patterns, connect ideas, develop habits, and embrace ecstasies.



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