I completely disagree.

Deborah Brandt’s chapter on the relative status of writing as compared to reading is interesting, but has several flaws.

First of all, Brandt says that “Reading was critical for salvation…” and implies that reading is generally construed to improve mankind, and that everyone is encouraged to read across the board (Brandt 144). I would argue against this. Yes, governments and schools put much emphasis on encouraging people to read with posters featuring Batman with a novel while he patrols Gotham (personally I think such a distraction would make Batman a rather poor vigilante, but if some kid really sees Batman with a book and decides to devote his life to literacy as a result, more power to the poster makers) and tutoring programs like America Reads. Clearly the powers-that-be have an investment in making sure people read. However, reading is not always celebrated in such a way. Reading can prove helpful for indoctrination, but also for rebellion and subversion. Brandt forgets about the books that are banned from school districts and libraries every year, from To Kill a Mockingbird to Twilight. People read not just to improve themselves, but to learn about ideas besides the reigning ones. Some of the best reading is done as a subversive act. Brandt’s construction of reading as a “good girl/boy” activity is fallacious.

Secondly, Brandt asserts that there is some sort of opposing relation between the amount of writing and the amount of reading going on (Brandt 153). She uses studies to illustrate and prove her point. Again, Brandt is seriously missing important information in her analysis. Reading, after the advent of the internet, has become much harder to track, since counting the amount of books or newspapers purchased per year cannot account for the real amount of reading people are doing, on PDFs, blogs, humor websites, downloaded books, online articles, and other sources that are difficult to quantify. Reading may not be disappearing; it may just be shifting to a more elusive medium. Writing and reading are related, not just in the fact writing is produced to read. Reading inspires others to write, without having read a newspaper article, a blogger will not post a heated response to said article. Writing is a reaction, reading is often the catalyst for this reaction.

So what do you think? Do you think Brandt has a point, or do you agree that she makes some grand assumptions in her argument?

Imagine if I wrote my entire essay like this

Why I Write (Sylvia Plath Remix)

I write because I

Breathe, because I need

to feel like I’m making a little word with my own

hands—

 

I write because I read

Pages make such impressions on me;

Its only natural I should wish to leave

Fingerprints on one of them in return.

 

I write because these images only stay

Running through the mazes of my mind so long

before finding their way out. I must scrawl

them on my wrist before they’re gone.

 

I write because my lifelines hold

Secrets no palmistry experts could trace out,

But my pencil bleeds leaden secrets,

Across scraps of paper, plain as day, grey as clay.

And needs not occult to do it.

 

This was my pitiful attempt to write like Sylvia Plath, using dashes, creepy imagery, enjambment, and honesty to convey a point. I hope it is not an entire disaster.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to BE Sylvia Plath,

I just want to write like her. I start with this caveat, because you tell people your favorite poet is Plath, and they start making inquiries about your mental health. Believe me, no one would want to emulate Plath’s life; I did a paper on her freshman year, and the poor thing was a rabid perfectionist, who tried to live up to the ideals of 1950s and  60s femininity while simultaneously achieving as much as she possibly could in the areas of academics. Sylvia lived an exhausting life. She was the top of her class, wrote incessantly, worked hard in everything she did, and still felt unworthy if she wasn’t also going on dates every weekend or being the perfect housewife. She felt immense pressure from her parents, herself, and her era to be everything at once, and to be better at it than anyone else. So I do not aspire to be Sylvia, for reasons besides her tragic suicide and lifetime battle with depression.

However, I do want to write like her. On Tuesday, I am bringing The Collected Poems of  Sylvia Plath to class as my example of writing I would like to emulate and that I feel is excellently written and intellectually engaging. I would have brought The Bell Jar, but I lent it to my sister in an attempt to get her to read something other than the teen romances she favors. Mary does not like to read most other books because she feels that she cannot relate to the protagonists, but there is something in Plath’s writing that is intimately relatable. Reading the poetry is like reading the inside of Sylvia’s mind, and the reader is often struck by phrases that are also inscribed on the inside of their own skulls. I would love to be able to compose such subversive nuggets of truth that a reader immediately recognizes.

While deeply personal, Plath’s writing is also political, it makes a statement about the world she lived in and her views on it. In the poem “The Applicant,” she makes a scathing critique of marriage, comparing it to a man buying a multipurpose doll that can fix everything in his life. The critique uses common details of life along with snide irony to engage the reader through personal identification and simultaneously reveal Plath’s own opinions through irony and sarcasm.

I wrote in my last blog post that nearly all writing in inherently political, attempting to convince the reader of something. Convincing someone of something often begins with showing them how similar you are to them before trying to bridge the gap between your differences. Plath does this skillfully with her subversively political messages tucked inside her luxuriously familiar phrases that could have come from the reader’s own diary. I would love to have this power of climbing inside the reader’s mind with them and then using what I find there to convince them of my point (My, that looks rather diabolical written out like that, doesn’t it?). This delicate balance of personal and political is difficult to achieve, of course, but I feel that it is a tactic worth pursuing.

Here is a clip of Sylvia Plath reading her most famous poem, “Daddy” which uses political imagery to illustrate a very personal story: \”Daddy\” by Sylvia Plath

And here is “The Applicant” in its entirety: http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/sylviaplath/1437

 

Everyone knows that one guy…

Or that writer, as the case may be. Reading George Orwell’s essay, “Why I Write,” I found his list of “motives” for writing to be strikingly true to everything I know about people who write.

“Sheer egoism” as bluntly as Orwell puts it, is one of the foremost reasons many people enjoy writing; the delicious possibility that others will read what you have written, declare you brilliant and put you down in the history books. None of us like to admit this one, of course. It isn’t delicate.

“Aesthetic enthusiasm” is as common as egoism, and nearly everyone who writes seems to love to make things pretty. I have writer friends who will stop dead on the side walk to contemplate the beauty of some old tree, perfectly aware of the cliche of it all. I identify the most with the second part of Orwell’s paragraph, the part about the pamphleteer who “may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.” I want my sentences to look good, to sound lovely rolling off the tongue and reverberating in the brain, and picky little things like commas and margins accomplish all sorts of special effects if deployed correctly.

“Historical Impulse” is something I have encountered mostly in the company of my fellow political science majors. Something about the social sciences really brings out the chronicler in everyone. Truth is sometimes such a nebulous thing, and to have it all written down accurately for future generations of poli sci majors feels like securing certainty for someone at least.

“Political Purpose,” for me, is less a motive for just writing than way of life. I am part of an activist group on campus, and have spent numerous evenings posting fliers in hopes that they will, in some small way, “push the world in a certain direction.” As Orwell asserts, every piece of writing has some political agenda, something to sell. The other three motives for writing all come back to this desire for influence of this kind. Promoting oneself is futile unless you can effect change by your prominence, aesthetics are absolutely necessary for persuasion, and history is simply the objective canvas for politics’ normative doodling. In the end, as with most worthwhile pursuits, the motives for writing come down to persuasion.

Perhaps Orwell’s motives for writing rang so true for me because they are my own motives. However, I would argue that they are, if not universal, relatively common among writers who simply want to be remembered, to create beautiful works, to record the truth, and most importantly, to affect change.