Not Again! Homoeroticism in Lit Class (And why the discussion is valuable)

So every time I have ever discussed a Shakespeare in a collegiate-level course, someone inevitably makes the argument that two of the (usually male) characters have some kind of homosexual or (more often) homoerotic relationship. Now I’m not going to dive into that mess of a discussion, which can involve tons of history, theory, critical discussion, etc., but I will say that up until now I’ve rather detested those discussions. Because it seems like they’re just a really easy way to make a wave.

And while that may still be true, I just realized something that has nothing to do with accuracy in regards to whether or not two of Shakespeare’s characters had homosexual tendencies or not. Because, on a practical level, that’s completely irrelevant. For one, there’s literally no way to know because a) Shakespeare is dead and b) the concept of homosexuality as we have it today did not exist (and he wouldn’t be able to speak on it).

However, all of those discussions we had DO pose a far, far, far, far, FAR more interesting question: how do we, in our modern society, interpret (same or mixed) gender interactions? I mean, if we can say “this activity by this character suggests that those two men have some sexual tension going on,” then something in our own modern society has to back that up. Because we don’t have a history book from 1500 that says “in our society friends behave in this manner and friends-with-benefits act in this way towards one another.” All we have is our own perception, based in our own society. And, like every generation before and to come, what we are doing in this discussion is self-reflecting, negotiating, seeking to understand ourselves and our society. And possibly seeking to re-negotiate what that really means.

And now I wonder what other discussions in English Lit I’ve checked out of off-hand.


This is going to be an English major rant

New Reading Standards Aim To Prep Kids For College — But At What Cost? : NPR.

So, especially if you’re American and care about the education system in America, you should read this.

I am an English major (and I’m in France. I know. It makes sense if you think about it). I love more than almost anything reading. I’ve read Chaucer in old English, Shakespeare, Joyce, Stevenson, Fitzgerald, Dumas, Bradbury, Austen, Woolf, Brian Jacques of the Redwall series and so many more. I don’t tend to like non-fiction. Not for fun anyway. Don’t get me wrong, a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. is incredible. The Declaration of Independence is fantastic. All these kinds of things are wonderful things to learn.

But why in English? Why not in History? The speeches by MLK Jr. are a perfect way to capture the hopes, feelings and power of the Civil Rights movement, so why not use it? Better yet, why not coordinate topics and read works like Invisible Man, The Bluest Eye, A Lesson Before Dying or any of the other many classics dealing with racial issues. Why not link Things Fall Apart with colonialism in World History?

But to say, “Okay, so these works of literature are about this topic and that’s what we’re going to teach you about” is ridiculous. A single novel, if well written, is about life. It can say anything and everything about a life experience. That is the beauty of studying English. You pick out a thread of truth and develop your arguments, then find that someone else has another thread of truth different from yours, and another person has found another thread of truth, until by the end of it you hold in your hands a web of lessons coming both from you and the text.

I appreciate what is being done and the effort being put into this project. Obviously something needs to be done. But there is a certain kind of critical thinking, of imagination, of experience that could be lost if we let it. And I know that experience has done more than instructed me, it has provided refuge. A safe harbor. That’s the real beauty of being an English major.

That Feeling You Get When You Learn Something Without Looking For It

So today was interesting. For a variety of reasons. First, I went to the market and paid 2 euro for like a full day/meals worth of food. Still can’t get over that, it’s just too awesome. Second, I watched/finished that show I have been rather obsessively viewing, baccano!. And strangely enough, I learned something. Something important.

You see, most people go through their hard-core self-discovery phase in high school. They rebel against ideals, ideas, rules, whatever. I should say that I’m really over-generalizing here. But that’s the stereotype and, to an extent, that’s very true. I didn’t really go through that. I mean, I did, but it wasn’t revolutionary. Not even close.

So here I find myself. Two years of college that have begun a search for what I really do believe. Who I am going to be, what I’m going to agree with. It’s gotten progressively stronger until I’ve been put into a place where I have questioned everything I can think of.

And that doesn’t really help you a lot with the whole “identity” thing. I mean, if you question the most core parts of your belief…it can be hard. Especially when every decision I make regarding what I want to do with my life has the potential to drastically affect the rest of my life, so what if I make a mistake? I mean, that’s the fear, isn’t it?

But I watched this show, which was awesome, and it answered my question. The question I’ve been asking this whole time, “what is most important?” Because if I know the answer to that question, I will know who I need to be. And that show, through some miracle, provided the answer. I will share it with you.

First: Be good. Be a good person. Be a “good-guy.”

Second: Be happy. Smile. Enjoy. That’s what life is all about.

Third: Protect the Good. Protect what is Good. In such cases it is okay to lay everything on the line for good people and for Good itself.

Fourth: Protect those weaker than you. Because who else is going to?