Mom gave me this wonderful little burgundy volume called Explicating French Texts: poetry, prose, drama last Christmas, and this past week it transported me to the days of burning academic fever, and vibrant peer-saturated community. Published by Harper and Row in 1970 by Eve Katz and Donald R. Hall, the text covers exactly what it says it will. What’s an effective way to explicate a piece of literature, and set it down with new understanding of its design and intention? What motivation, with all of the numerous theories on literary criticism, is most approachable—the ideas of the author, or the structure of the text, or both? In a few weeks I’ll be sifting through another French course, with a half-dozen classless French years behind me. The beautiful wonder of Paris in 2009 left its linguistic mark, but that was quickly etched out by varied choices and life itself. It’s a bit terrifying knowing that “La Chanson de Roland” is Old French, but how would life bear fruit without pruning, n’est-ce pas? Sitting with a dictionary and pouring over antiquated grammar in my favorite language makes me, in the former words of Ashley Simpson “wanna la-la-la.” It’s magical. Themes of this book also correlate directly with the itch I’ve been feeling to gather into deeper, less awkward community. The general rules set up in the introduction are these: 1) Reading the text, 2) Situating the text, 3) Defining the general character of the text, 4) Describing the structure of the text, 5) Analyzing the text in detail, and 6) Synthesizing in conclusion the findings of the analysis. Each rule is fleshed out, accordingly. Each rule holds value for a quest to love better.
Though it’s grossly obvious, reading the text has been a lost art. When the authors of this book discuss “living” with the text for some time, I recall quick overviews of passages to contribute just enough for a participation grade. This benefits no one. The unidentified writer of Roland, for example, can’t be successfully translated unless one spends rich and focused quality time on the work. Sure, I can summarize the plot after some cliff notes or Wikipedia, but I won’t know why so many people gather elegance from its passages. I can’t celebrate the lyric with them. On the same note, if I’m not having coffee with a friend and really listening to her problems and joys; if I’m glossing over his status update but only to judge if it’s better than mine; if I’m attending parties only to show off my husband and look for ways to work in stories of the wedding, I’m performing a cliff-notes coup d’oeil (glimpse/once-over) on my relationships. Shame, Nina. On the other hand, on the days when I take a walk with someone and let their political disagreement resonate with who they say they are; when I’m using that facebook to laugh at someone’s hilarious joke; when I’m going to parties and delighting in the rich tapestry that God has made us, I make our Creator happy (and others, plus myself). There’s also the benefit of “pre-reading”, encouraging research on unknown vocabulary and expressions. Thinking before I speak, write, or act, should be of great importance.
Next we have “situating the text” and “defining the general character of the text.” I appreciate that Explicating French highlights the necessity of limiting information, when attempting to situate a literary work. Don’t delve into the author’s entire life history, just show me the relevant biographical tidbits concerning the composition of this play. What’s relevant? In terms of community, a difference can be detected in honestly relaying character flaws or strengths and overloading the listener with low self-esteem. My hope is that this blog avoids the latter on most days. Observe memorable quotes from the section on “defining the general character of the text”: “The author may have wished to make us laugh, cry, dream, meditate, or feel frightened, indignant, or scandalized.”; and “The student must be governed in every case by his own common sense, good taste, and intuition, and not by preconceived ideas or second-hand information.” My take-away for rapport-building? What is my definition of relationships? Why have them? Comprehending what they are and why they must work will bolster how they’re done. It’s the common sense mentioned in the preceding quote. In addition to this, I can only learn about community by practicing it. It may be the new buzzword, but it’s a worthy one.
The final points “describing the structure of the text,” “analyzing the text in detail,” and “synthesizing in conclusion the findings of the analysis” are interesting methods that I would like to develop. Basically, one seeks the literature with a microscope, steps back to prepare his observational report, and stands before the committee to offer the importance of her research. Yet one does this by highlighting new and valuable insights, not quite summarizing, but painting a picture of the painting. Personal reactions are saved for last. In maintaining a core group of people to experience life with, I can assess the merit in friendship and wisely leave or repair certain connections. This is a living organism that grows in power and beauty, representing or withdrawing from Yahweh’s pounding love. It won’t be summarized that easily.
I wait for this engagement to produce joy and pain, unafraid of the sting.