Tutor profile: Joel K.
Tell me about literary criticism.
There are three levels of textual criticism: the chemical, the pharmacological, and the medicinal. Let’s take the simplest text as an example: “A rose.” (Those two words—“a” and “rose”—make a text, even though they are only two words.) Chemical criticism finds out what the text does to us in terms of logic (logos), and obviously what it does is mean something—in this case, “a flower with red petals, green leaves, and a thorny stem.” Pharmacological criticism finds out what the text does to us in terms of emotion (pathos): “A rose” clearly gives us a tiny bit of happiness and fills us with subtle feelings of love and beauty. Medicinal criticism is different: it determines not what the text can do to us, but what we—our characters, our ethoi—can do to it. Thus, it considers two things: 1) how the text can be used and 2) how its use can be improved. One way the text can be used is as part of a metaphor: A boy can describe a girl he likes by saying, metaphorically, “She is a rose.” He can then improve that metaphor—the way the text, “a rose,” is used—by adding a few words. If the girl plays “hard-to-get,” and if her playing “hard-to-get” causes the boy pain, he can say, “She is a rose with thorns.” Of course, what exactly constitutes an “improvement” is subjective…. “Work out thine own salvation,” says Paul.
What is the purpose of art?
The ultimate purpose of art is to encourage the Body not merely to continue living, but to continue living (as Bradbury would say) with “zest and gusto.” Let’s use movies as examples. Movies that show the Eye a bunch of good things happening to people (e.g., falling in love, slaying a monster, finding a hidden treasure) teach the Mind to think that life can be worthwhile and pleasurable, and once the Mind has been taught this lesson, it can compel the Heart to entertain good feelings about life—feelings that can motivate the Body to pursue (or to keep pursuing) the aforementioned “good things” (love, heroism, and adventure) with the full participation of each of its many powers. But then there are scary, sad, or depressing movies, which show the Eye a bunch of bad things happening to people—heartbreak, failure, fear, death. These movies teach the Mind that life can be painful and undesirable, and once the Mind has been taught this lesson, it at first compels the Heart to entertain bad feelings about life—feelings that not only can motivate the Body to avoid (or to continue to avoid) life’s “thousand natural shocks,” but can also, in the most extreme cases, even persuade the Body to make its own “quietus” with a "bare bodkin." Yet there is another side to this story: Although these gloomy movies initially turn the Body off from the “slings and arrows” of life—from all of the bad things—they can actually have the same effect as the cheerful movies mentioned above: By teaching the Mind that certain aspects of life can be hard, they eventually persuade the Mind to steel the Heart with feelings of strength, courage, and playfulness—feelings that make the Body not just willing but eager to muster all of its powers in a zestful, thrilling struggle to succeed (and even thrive) in a world full of fear, sadness, and death. So movies that show good things happening to people—movies that have “happy endings,” movies that we can call “comedies”—can have the same effect on the Body as movies that show bad things happening to people—movies that have sad endings, movies that we can call “tragedies.” Both kinds of movies can activate or “turn on” the powers of the Body, inspiring it to play the pleasurable but also painful game of life with “zest and gusto.”
What do metaphors do?
Metaphors compare two things. A boy might say about a girl he likes, “She is a rose.” And by saying this, he is obviously comparing the girl to a rose. But what you need to understand, dear reader, is that every comparison involves a connection. Comparing a girl to a rose is possible only if the girl and the rose are connected. And how are they connected? By a similarity, and we all know what that is. What we do not all know, however, is that the similarity which connects two things—in this case a rose and a girl—is always invisible. The old term for it is tertium comparationis, which means “the third thing in the comparison.” No one can see this “third thing.” In the metaphor, “She is a rose,” the first thing is the girl, the second thing is the rose, and the third thing (tertium) is Beauty or the Beautiful. The rose and the girl are connected by Beauty or by the girl’s being Beautiful. But no one can see Beauty or the Beautiful per se. Metaphor is precious because it comes closer than anything else to letting us steal a glance at such invisible things as Beauty. When two images—like the image of the rose and the image of the girl—are connected by metaphor, the invisible “third thing” that connects them can be felt flitting from one image to the next, like a ghost hiding behind the left wall at the end of a hallway, then dashing from its hiding place to a spot behind the right wall—and doing all of this entirely in the corner of your eye.
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