the mythos of understanding

January 14, 2007

I don’t understand things. I don’t understand why student teaching has to be so difficult. I don’t understand why I have to be employed to have money. I don’t understand why food can be bad for you. I don’t understand why my friends have emotional complexes. I don’t understand why kids don’t like school. I don’t understand why poetry has to be democratized into analysis. I don’t understand why apartment managers can’t get simple repairs initiated. I don’t understand why my brother has to smoke weed to keep his anger down. I don’t understand why I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

The more I think about it, the more I understand that this is okay, but even that concept is beyond me. “It’s okay to not understand everything,” is a phrase that demands a deeper understanding than most of the stuff I’ve listed above, and a few hundred more things. I know, I’m human, and to be human is to be limited. Yet, we preach about unlimited potentials in all people, and about how the human mind is so complex that it can handle anything you want to do, you simply have to do it. Okay, that last statment is bunk, but for the most part, it seems to have some validity.

I’m sitting in the bath, starting into a book review on a poetry collection, and I come across all these terms that are used to break down poetry. The first question in my mind is, “Why do we need all these poems?” Then came, “Can’t you just read the fucking poem and like it or not?”

I realize that we are people, out here in the vast, and its clear to me that people need definitions to make sense of things. I won’t go into a deeper formatting of that. It’s a truth we all realize. However, those terms and definitions still get in the way. We constantly separate out the wheat from the chaf and we decide good from bad. It’s scholarly, supposedly, and when you are trying to disseminate an entire time period of work, you have to have something to get it in the brain better. My problem lies in that that’s not how I think of things sometimes. Especially reading. I either like it or I don’t. Can’t always say why. Same goes with people. I either like you or not, and sometimes I can’t say why that’s true. Part of its paranoia, but that’s another topic.

This breaking down, this filtering. What good is it? Let’s look at an example. Today, during a fraternity meeting, two council members were discussing the finer points of an individuals career and the works he’d done after retirement. They included things like speaking at national conventions, working with local groups, staying active in national matters. Seems like a nice guy, beyond the points that he was a district governor for the fraternity and was a student in the band with our founding advisor. The guy has been around, and done good things. Councilman A is saying that this person would be a great selection for honorary status because of the work he had done. Councilman B was saying that he didn’t want to select this person for honorary status because he was too local in his works, and no one would know that he’d really been that great of a guy.

I’m sitting here, thinking that its dumb, because the guy obviously wanted to do good things, and did them, regardless of where or when. I like this guy, and I don’t even know him. However, Councilman B is concerned about appearances (which I can’t be completely devoid of considering myself, I’ll admit) and that trivializes the prestige that we were offering. Why discuss placing honor when the good things get pushed aside by circumstance.

How does this apply to poetry? If I’m reading a poem, I’ll see a phrase or stanza that I really like, or an image, and that sticks. But I don’t look at overall phrasing, I don’t look at selection of the syllables to create a greater impact. I don’t look to see if it is “avant-garde” or not. I either like it, or not, and its either a good poem, or a bad one.

My fault? When it comes to music, I’m more discriminating. Perhaps not, I’m not sure. There are lots of songs I can get into, regardless of genre, and many I dismiss before I even hear them because I can predict what they will sound like. I’ve been surprised at times, and this is what makes me reconsider bands like Fall Out Boy and 30 Seconds to Mars. Common? Not gonna listen to him, regardless of how old and not-stupid he is, because he is still gonna talk about “life in the ghetto” and I can’t dig that. Selena? Don’t understand her because there is something about the overall sound of that kind of music that I don’t like. Granted, if Bidi-bidi-bom-bom (or whatever its called) comes on, I’ll dance. It’s good stuff to dance too.

To summarize, if I can, the categorizing gets in the way of what’s really important, I guess. Okay, fine, mediocre essay. I’ll do better next time, I promise.



  1. I never understood the reasoning behind picking at great works of literature. It’s like the teachers believe they know exactly what the author was speaking of and what they were going through when they wrote it. That drove me nuts. I loved my english classes, yet I hated them at the same time. There is such a thing as over analyzing. It shouldn’t be done at any time.

    *hugs* Love ya, bro.

  2. yes, poetry, music, paintings, art of any kind…I either love or not. Maybe it’s all my own sense of aesthetics…I don’t really know.

    But I do know if it evokes a strong reaction…then it might be interesting to find out why.

  3. NOT mediocre. Actually, I was thinking of asking your permission to give it to my writing class. Do you mind?

    I have mixed feelings about this topic. I mean, as an English teacher, part of my job (a BIG part of my job) is to get students to move beyond the “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” to figure out WHY. Sometimes, digging deeper and assigning meaning to works helps to clarify what it all REALLY means to someone, and (for me, anyway) helps to solidify the experience of the piece so that I can tuck it away for future reference. I agree, though, that this is often WAY overdone for nothing more than the sake of academia. Analysis is one thing, dissection and mutilation is something else entirely.

    My problem is that I haven’t found a happy balance to the two – I still feel pressure to over-investigate poetry or literature because that’s what I’ve been trained to do (and that’s what English professors are EXPECTED to do, isn’t it?), but I don’t want to subject my students to it because, well, I thought it was bullshit when *I* had to do it. So the question becomes; how much analysis is enough?

    Seriously – let me know if I can use this essay, please; and, if so, how you’d like to be credited for it. Thanks!


  4. Do you remember when I edited Shakespeare in high school because it sounded better to my ear? Yeeeeeah.

    I agree with Mrs. Chili that analysis and mutilation of an art are two different things and also, I think you do have to be able to clarify why or why not you like something. If nothing else, it gives you a starting point to interpret what you intrinsically do or do not like. [*ahem*I may or may not stop with this type of writing.]

    I also like the idea that has been introduced in grad school right now, that one builds a foundation for scholarly discussion. That at a certain point your opinions become valid in academia if you can mold a rational argument around it. Even if you don’t like something, the fingers of influence can reach so far beyond what you initally consider that it’s actually fun to just know and relate spheres of understanding.

    Okay, I’m starting to confuse myself. It’s been a long day.

  5. you’re more judgemental about music than you think. At least about other people’s music. I can recall at least two accounts where you judged me personally based on music.

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