RESTARTING O-NEW IN THE MIDDLE OF THREE SCHOOL PROJECTS WAS NOT A GOOD IDEA
But I shall persevere! Caught up to Maou (just need to pull up the posts) and hopefully I’m back in the Musical Monday mood. But for now, posts will be approximately this long, lest I spend more effort on O-New than on school!!
Life of Pi was a pretty recent film. It’s about the life of a boy, Pi. You may have heard about it; it won the most (four) Academy Awards in 2012. You may have watched it. Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers in this post. Or perhaps there is, if you’re planning to see the film; but if you haven’t yet, there’s a good chance you won’t. The spoilers don’t really spoil anything, since this essay isn’t about Life of Pi, and Life of Pi isn’t about its plot
It’s about its meaning.
I always thought that Life of Pi’s ending was a religious statement—just like believers, the novelist had to have faith in Pi, that his story was true. Although reason and psychology may steer one to believe otherwise, faith transcends both. People who value ‘order’ will automatically believe in the metaphoric story with ‘real’ humans—this denies a whole range of fantastic (in a bad way) possibilities, showing logic’s corrupting influence over the flexibility of faith. Furthermore, faith is unique to each person, as are meanings (interpretations!).
Yet, few seemed to agree. Most posts online simply followed the novelist’s connect-the-dots from ‘actual humans’ to their ‘animal representations’. So too did I think, but something was off, it was too obvious. I mean, in the film itself, the novelist explicitly STATES all of these connections! What kind of serious literary work TELLS you its meaning?
That exposes a preconception in our minds: that serious literary works’ meanings are to be found and not given. This is the notion that leads to ‘overanalysis’, when we ‘think too hard’ about something which has an ‘obvious meaning’.
But how do we find this meaning when nobody agrees? Does one meaning to any literary work actually exist? Do any meanings exist at all?
It’s late, but it’s still Tuesday. Any thoughts?
Here’s a transcription of a Kirby song (I’ve been transcribing lots of Kirby songs!). It’s what happens when you eat spicy curry. I’d accelerate it 800% but after several months of inactivity my fingers would probably fall off. EXCEPT THEY CAN’T CAUSE IT’S SPRING so they’d probably spring off, which is just as bad.
But I’m coming back to posting now, and this post proves it.
JUST KIDDING HAPPY APRIL FOOLS. Oh, it’s not April Fools anymore? Now what…
[Overanalysis Over Analysis was my original title, but it makes no sense. Neither does the current one, but dagnabbit I’m putting that over in somehow.]
What is overanalysis? Why do people hate it so?
To answer that, we’ll first need to figure out what we’re really talking about: literary analysis, which isn’t really quite ‘analysis’. Then, we’ll try to bridge the gap between analyses and opinions, which really aren’t too far apart. Finally, we’ll see if said hate actually exists, and then if it’s warranted, which really something really. Finally (part two), we’ll move into the realm of the ~IMAGINARY~ so I can stop saying really imaginary really imaginary really. Seriously.
I recently wrote several scathing posts on overanalysis being a BAD thing because it was over analysis, I was analysis, and I didn’t like having things be over me. Those posts are devoid of content because they’re me blowing off steam after reading some dumb analyses (being too cowardly to directly reply).
Then, syncoroll made me realize just what ‘analysis’ is: that is to say, I didn’t actually KNOW what analysis was.
To the Dictionary.com!
1. the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements
2. this process as a method of studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations
In other words, completely unlike my (by extension, ‘our’, assuming you’re also an uneducated boor) conception of literary analysis. When we talk about ‘overanalysis’, we’re talking about splitting a holistic piece into too many pieces, which are like whole pieces except 1. they’re different definitions of ‘piece’ and 2. it’s unholistic, which means it’s ETERNALLY DAMNED
Maybe we’ll talk about actual analysis later. My wrongful understanding of literary analysis seems to have a different word for it:
1. to give or provide the meaning of; explain; explicate; elucidate
2. to construe or understand in a particular way
That’s it! When we talk about analyses, we’re generally talking about INTERPRETATIONS! Maybe I’ll analyse analyses later but interpretations is what we want to focus on. (Or maybe my lack of recent literary participation has backwatered me.)
Meaning is different to each of us. We were all born and raised (or born and lowered, if for example you were born on the peak of a howling mountain and your maturation occurred alongside a eighteen-year trek to the bottom) in different environments, and our perspectives are all incomparable.
How can we tell?
We look at our opinions—the thoughts we think when we experience something (LOVE IS JUST AN OPINI-), such as watching a movie. People have different opinions on its quality (or its QUALITY), for different reasons—many which only make sense to one person’s unique mindset. Case in point: I really liked watching The Sacred Star of Milos (even though I’ve never watched Brotherhood) because the background faces were too QUALITY and all dialogue scenes were still frames with hilariously wide-open mouths. OK, THEY WERE HILARIOUS TO ME I’M ENTITLED TO MY OWN OPINION SECOND AMENDMENT BLAH BLAH BLAH. also i have a gun
What happens when you try to explain your opinion to someone else? Well, you show them your reasons and hope they understand. Usually, they won’t accept your entire argument—because certain reasons are only valid to some people!—but they might understand some of it.
What happens when you write down your explanation to show someone else?
Well, don’t we now have an interpretation? In fact, everything from the beginning was an interpretation—ALL YOUR OPINIONS are simply your UNIQUE WAY of INTERPRETING external data, and tautologically, ALL INTERPRETATIONS are simply the author’s OPINION.
Many people hate ‘overanalysis’ because it’s TOO analysis for them (that’s what over- means). How can something be too analysis for someone? Why has my grammar degraded faster than a slope being flattened by a steamroller? The joke is that before flattening, said slope had a grade, but post-flattening, it doesn’t; thus the grade was removed and the slope DEGRADED and now you just made me RUIN my OWN JOKE!!! Now it’s SUPERFLAT!!!!11!1 sorry
Analyses are just interpretations, which are just opinions, right? (Right.) Can an opinion be ‘too much’?
Yes, they can. Consider a staunch individualist Republican presented with three alternative economies: laissez-faire capitalism, the welfare state, and flat-out communism. Laissez-faire capitalism is acceptable, because he agrees with the OPINION; a welfare state is pretty bad, because he disagrees; flat-out communism is TOO bad because he REAAAAAAAAAAALLY disagrees. No imaginary disagreeing here.
Now (we’re gradually sliding closer to disagreeing about analyses), consider a not-deaf/not-dead Beethoven presented with three different interpretations of his 9th symphony: one by the Cityville Philharmonic Orchestra (no, don’t search that up), one arranged by Liszt for solo piano, and one sung by Justin Bieber over loud dubstep. The Cityville Philharmonic Orchestra is acceptable, because Beethoven agrees with their INTERPRETATION (which is his own); Liszt’s is probably alright, because he doesn’t disagree; Justin Bieber’s dubstepmix is TOO bad because he REAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLY disagrees. Hopefully.
So opinions can be too much and interpretations can be too much.
Now consider a Guilty Crown fanatic surfing cross the ‘sphere presented with three different analyses: one praising Guilty Crown’s awesomeness, one praising Guilty Crown’s QUALITY, and one denouncing Guilty Crown’s lack of quality. The first is acceptable because he agrees with their analysis, which is just an interpretation, which is just their OPINION. The second is pretty bad, because he disagrees that Guilty Crown had QUALITY, and the last is TOO bad because he REAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLY disagrees.
Gosh that was long and unnecessary.
tl;dr: the reason anyone thinks something is ‘overanalysing’ is because they DISAGREE with the author’s OPINION. In fact, all analyses are interpretations, which are just opinion; we don’t like analyses that don’t fit our own opinions.
I hope that clears things up, especially with the whole debate about ‘objective’ reviewing. At heart, all artistic commentary is pure opinion. Perhaps ALL communication is opinion, save truths by definition. Next up, we’ll publish up something about finding meaning in art through—that’s right—differing interpretations. That’s right, welcome to ~epistemology month~!
[Remember this poetry post from thirty years ago? No? Well, neither do I, nor do I remember writing this post, but apparently it was half-finished and I guess I never hit publish? I’ll write a more eloquent post with an actual argument later.]
Here’s the second poem I chose to recite, ‘Sweet Like a Crow’.
What do you think of after reading this poem? If you’re tempted to give some lofty appeal about the pointlessness of reality and the audio escapism that postmodern music offers, stop right there.
It’s about the poet’s niece’s HORRIBLE singing.
my left hand has HORRIBLE signing»
As part of our (frankly non-existent) poetry unit, our English class chose a poem to either analyze or recite. It’s our first and final poetry assignment. Yes, the entire unit lasts a week. Anywho, not being a literary person myself, I chose the traditional method: recitation.
What poem? Well, our only options came from this site, Poetry in Voice. (I think it’s part of a communist conspiracy between teachers to create a fake monopoly on poems.) The first poem I chose/am choosing is entitled ‘Introduction to Poetry’. Click on that link to read it (it’s literally a hundred words long).
There’s a second poem I’m choosing as a backup in case anybody recites this first, and I’ll talk about its overanalysis in tomorrow’s essay. But today, I’d like to ask: what do you guys think about poetic analysis?
This poem is ironic in itself: it cautions against overanalysis, yet people are still overanalyzing it. For example, this first guest analysis is simply wonderful. Thank god we have Google to let me understand how “the American world failed, so his culture. America is now melting or returning to his mother europe to cry together, those days.”
(Really, that comment is worth a read. I think it might be a copypasta, though.)
But really, come on. Six pages of analysis. The prime suspect of overanalysis is lengthiness; poetry majors just don’t understand brevity! Consider said link’s first page. A terse summary could be: “Collins teaches poetry reading. Every line begins with a different word.”
Consider this analysis. Poetry analysis isn’t actually deep. It’s trying to flesh out the simplest concepts as tortuously as possible. What did you think when you read the poem? You thought, “Wow, this guy really is frustrated with his students’ overanalysis.” That’s all the link above writes, but with a thousand more words.
What would happen with briefer poetic analysis? Or less nitpicky ones (sometimes, alliteration and assonance are accidental, as in all my articles)?
On one hand, we have this attitude. On the other hand, prose is shorter than verse, and thus, poets actually do have to mull over every single word! But does that mean every single word has meaning?
Twitter shows that the opinions on this run the gamut, and I guess it’s a fitting (no, not really) topic to reignite O-New’s lagging literary impact. Thoughts?
P.S. Obligatory f-bomb-laced video with the same poem title.
[Because my mind hasn’t yet adjusted to normal post-writing processes, here’s another school essay in lieu of contemplative anime analysis. It’s a comparison of James Joyce’s Ulysses (of which I’ve only read the first three chapters!) and Homer’s Odyssey, which our entire class read previously. After getting some flak for dissing Dr. Campbell last time, I wax lyrical over his ‘accomplishments’ now. This time, the word limit really is 1000 words, which I’ve once again filled completely…]
In 1949, comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell discovered a pattern in diverse cultural myths: the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey’s 17 stages encompass many mythological plot points, including Homer’s ancient epic, the Odyssey, and James Joyce’s modernist classic, Ulysses. While neither Telemachus nor Ulysses’s first protagonist Stephen Dedalus display heroic traits, their journeys still exemplify Campbell’s monomyth—a Hero’s Journey without a hero.
The Odyssey starts with Telemachus seeking information of his father. His house is overrun with rowdy suitors, and he feels powerless against them. He commences his own Hero’s Journey to find Odysseus. The main themes in the Telemachia are the suitors’ unwanted domestic occupation and Telemachus’s spiritual growth as he meets Nestor and Menelaus. When he returns, he has become a man.
Ulysses’s first part, also called the Telemachia, chronicles three hours of an ordinary, insignificant Dublin morning in 1904, as Dedalus contemplates life. Dedalus is an ordinary young man living with a ‘friend’ who insults his dead mother and snatches away the house key. The first chapter’s last line is “Usurper”; thus, Dedalus believes his ‘friend’ usurped his home (Joyce 35), like the suitors usurped Telemachus’s. He too embarks on a subdued ‘adventure’, meeting with his anti-Semitic employer, Deasy, and ruminating life along the beach. This parallels Telemachus’s fruitless meeting with Nestor and Proteus’s information about Odysseus. Deasy lectures that “a faithless wife first brought the strangers to our shore here, MacMurrough’s wife and her leman O’Rourke” (Joyce 53). Actually, MacMurrough abducted O’Rourke’s wife, preceding the Norman Invasion of Ireland (Braín 1152.6). Nestor’s reputation for wisdom, yet lack of useful information, corresponds to Deasy’s historical ignorance. Proteus’s shape-shifting represents change, so Joyce’s interior monologue narrative style constantly changes direction, yet illuminates Dedalus’s perspectives on life and regret over not accomplishing childhood dreams.
The Telemachia displays many early monomythic plot points. Telemachus’s Call to Adventure is Odysseus’s disappearance. Athena aids Telemachus by spurring him on; after reaching Pylos, he has Crossed the First Threshold into the unknown, away from the his home’s safety. The Telemachia ends here; later, Telemachus’s Belly of the Whale is the suitors’ ambush, and he Atones with his Father in Eumaeus’s hut. Odysseus’s adventure is more overtly monomythic, but Dedalus corresponds only to Telemachus.
Dedalus’s Call to Adventure is his ‘friend’ demanding drinking money and the house key, paralleling the suitors’ thankless cadgering. A milk woman indirectly spurs his journey by exacerbating Dedalus’s scorn of his ‘friend’; Campbell observes that “the milk woman is the role of Athena, who comes to Telemachus when he is 22 and tells him to go forth, find his father” (Campbell Disc 3). He Crosses the First Threshold after his meeting with the obtuse sexist Deasy, who gives Dedalus thick racist remarks and his salary. Finally, he enters the ‘unknown’: his own mind. To readers, this is shocking: few writers would illustrate natural human thought with natural—illogical—first-person topic transitions. Readers are truly venturing where no man has gone before.
The Odyssey’s monomythic scope is more obvious than Ulysses’s. Telemachus sets out on a voyage, and Odysseus wanders the wine-dark sea for a decade, encountering fantastic creatures. Telemachus is not a hero. He starts weak, irresolute, and naïve, but grows through his journey. However, the monomyth is about the story, not the character: protagonists can even be morally repugnant ‘villains’, their Ultimate Boon perhaps being world destruction, as long as they venture into the unknown and return with an Ultimate Boon. Thus, the Odyssey, as a monomyth, transcends the Hero’s Journey—it is a journey without a hero.
Ulysses lacks the Odyssey’s scope, merely detailing an ordinary Dublin day. However, as the Odyssey transcends the Hero’s Journey, so does Ulysses. Joyce’s writing elevates Dedalus’s thoughts to a godlike level; the sheer breadth and range of his interior monologue’s allusions equate his commonplace musings to an epic. He sees midwives carrying a misbirth, and ponders about an unending chain of navel cords, linking all humanity back to Adam and Eve: “Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one” (Joyce 57). This connection to the Genesis broadens his monologue’s temporal scope; a typical day on the beach and Dedalus has already alluded to all human history.
The grandiosity gradually decreases over the chapter. He broods on what could have been in his own past: “Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves […]? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara […] You were going to do wonders, what?” (Joyce 61, 63). This shows his disgust with his past’s naïve optimism. Like all epics, the scope is first historical, and now personal. Eventually, reality overtakes his philosophical reverie, and his thoughts deal with the immediate: “My handkerchief. He threw it. I remember. Did I not take it up? […] He laid the dry snot picked from his nostril on a ledge of rock” (Joyce 76). This concludes the chapter, a tour de force from Eden to snot. Although the setting is a walk on the beach, Joyce’s purview transcends its humdrum nature: from molehill to mountain, from the mundane to the sublime.
Both Ulysses and its hypotext, the Odyssey, contain early monomythic plot points. The Odyssey transcends a Hero’s Journey because Telemachus is not heroic, yet his tale is still a monomyth. Ulysses transcends the monomyth because, although Dedalus’s ‘journey into the unknown’ is ordinary, Joyce’s interior monologue transforms his thoughts into a genuine adventure. Thus, both Ulysses and the Odyssey represent the monomyth.
It is only appropriate: Campbell, a Joyce scholar, borrowed the term ‘monomyth’ from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. These two works, Ulysses and the Odyssey, stand as a testament to the monomyth’s ubiquity—so many works embody the monomyth that we learn nothing from cross-comparison! Joyce creates an oxymoron—a common hero, shaping the power of literary form into a medium of literary expression. Stephen Dedalus’s Hero’s Journey has no hero, has no journey; Joyce elevates the everyman to create a hero, his words transcendent.
Word Count: 1000 (not including title)
Braín, Tigernach U. The Annals of Tigenach. Edit. Corráin, Donnchadh Ó. Cork: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts, 1996. Web.
Campbell, Joseph J. On the Wings of Art: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce. New York: Highbridge Audio, 1995. Audiobook.
Joyce, James A. A. Ulysses. London: Random House, 1992. Print.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1997. Print.