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How to Read Literature Like a Professor

By Brylea-Palmer May 12, 2014 1227 Words
How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (Notes)

Introduction: “How’d He Do That?”

Part of reading is:
oKnowing conventions
oRecognizing conventions
oAnticipating results
When a person introduces a topic, then digresses onto other topics it doesn’t matter what examples, as soon as you see a couple of them you recognize a pattern. oYou know the author is coming back with an application of those examples to the main topic. Conventions in stories/novels:

oTypes of characters
oPlot rhythms
oChapter structures
oPoint-of-view limitations
Separation of professional reader from a crowd:
“Professors read and think symbolically.”
oEverything is a symbol of something until proven otherwise. Literature is full of patterns.
oLife and books fall into similar patterns.

Foster’s Chapter: “Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It’s Not)” (Ch. 1; pg.1)

What does a quest include?
oA Knight
oA dangerous road
oA Holy Grail
At the least:
oOne dragon
oOne evil night
oOne princess
A quest consists of five things:
oA quester
oA place to go
oA stated reason to go there
oChallenges and trials en route
oA real reason to go there
“The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason.” oMore often than not, the quester fails at the stated task. oQuesters go on the quest because of the stated task, mistakenly thinking that it is their actual mission. A quest is educational.

“The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.”
oThat is why a quester is generally is always young, inexperienced, immature, and sheltered.

Foster’s Chapter: “Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion” (Ch. 2; pg. 7)

What is communion?
oWhenever people eat or drink together.
Most readers relate communion to Christianity but nearly every religion has ritual involving the coming together of people to share a meal. Not all communions are holy or have religious meanings.

oLiterary versions of communion can be interpreted in various ways.

Real World
oBreaking bread with others is an act of sharing and peace, because you’re breaking bread instead of heads. oCommunion is normally taken with those who close are to you. Why?
o“The act of taking food into our bodies is so personal that we really only want to do it with people we’re very comfortable with.”

Foster’s Chapter: “Now, Where Have I Seen This Before?” (Ch.5; pg. 28)

There’s only one story.
oStories grow out of other stories.
oPoems grow out of other poems.
Influences from other literary works.
oDirect and obvious
oIndirect and subtle
oThe ongoing interaction between poems and stories
oDeepens and enriches reading experience
oBrings multiple layers of meaning to text
Picking up on elements in a literary work such as parallels and analogies will cause your understanding of the novel to deepen, become more complex and meaningful.

Foster’s Chapter: “It’s Greek to Me” (Ch. 9; pg.64)

Kinds of myth?
oFolk/ Fairly tale
These three kinds of myths work as:
oSources of material
oSources of correspondences
oSources of depth for the modern writer
oEnhancers and enrichers to the reading experience
Biblical myth covers the largest range of human situations oEncompasses all ages of life
oAll relationships
oAll phases of the individual’s experience
Myth is a body of story that matters.
“Greek and Roman myth is so much a part of the fabric of our consciousness, of our unconscious really, that we scarcely notice.” Example: Homer used primal patterns known to humans.
Four great struggles of the human being:
oWith nature
oWith the divine
oWith other humans
oWith ourselves

Foster’s Chapter: “Is That a Symbol?” (Ch. 12; pg. 97)

oPeople expect symbols to mean one something in particular. oSome have a relatively limited range in meaning.
oMany readers expect them to be objects and images rather than events or actions. Generally a symbol cannot be reduced to a single meaning oIf they can it’s considered allegory
Allegory: Things stand for other thing on a one-for-one basis If symbolism was easy and manageable:
o“It would result in net loss: the novel would cease to be what it is, a network of meanings and significations that permits a nearly limitless range of possible interpretations.” Finding symbol meanings:

oUse tools such as:
Preexisting knowledge
Reading is an event of imagination:
Imagination helps puzzle out what the reader is trying to convey. Imagination isn’t fantasy. A reader’s imagination is the act of one creative intelligence engaging another.

Interlude: “Does He Mean That?” (pg.82)

Discussions of the writer’s intention are not especially profitable. Aspiring Writers:
oHungry and aggressive readers
oHave absorbed large amounts of literary history and culture Keep in mind how long literary composition can take and how much lateral thinking can go in that specific amount of time. Lateral Thinking:

o“The way writers can keep their eye on the target, whether it be the plot of the play or the ending of the novel or the argument of the poem, and at the same time bring in a great deal of at least tangentially related material.”

Foster’s Chapter: “…So Does Seasons” (Ch. 20; pg. 175)

Seasons can portray:
Each season has a different representation:
oSpring: childhood and youth
oSummer: adulthood, romance, fulfillment, passion
oAutumn: decline, middle age, tiredness, harvest
oWinter: old age, resentment, death
“Sometimes the season isn’t mentioned specifically or immediately, and could make a matter a bit tricky.” Autumn
oHarvest is element of autumn.
oHarvest could be agricultural.
oIt could also be a reference to personal harvests.
Seasons are always the same in literature yet always different.

Interlude: “One Story” (pg. 185)

There’s only ONE story.
o“A work actually acquires depth and resonance from the echoes and chimes its sets up with prior texts, weight from the accumulated use of certain basic patterns tendencies.” oLiterary works are more comforting when the reader recognizes element from prior reading. oA work that has no reference to previous writing would lack familiarity, losing readers. Considerable concepts for originality:


Foster’s Chapter: “Don’t Read with Your Eyes” (Ch. 25; pg.226)

Don’t read with your eyes.
oTry to find a reading perspective that allows for sympathy with the historical moment of the story. oFind a reading perspective that understands the text as having been written against its own social, historical, cultural, and personal background. Try to take works as they are intended to be taken.

oPushes skepticism and doubt to its extreme, questioning nearly everything in the story or poem at hand. oThe goal is to demonstrate how the work is controlled and reduced by the values and prejudices of its own time. “Last-change-for-change” stories

oHow they work?
The character is older in age has experienced several chances to grow, reform, and get it right. The character is presented with one last chance to educate them in the most needed area.

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