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339 pages, Hardcover
First published March 1, 2016
He was frowning. "What is the purpose of literature to you?"
He might have been asking me if I believed in God.
"English is the study of what makes us human," I said. It was a phrase I had learned from standardized tests.
"Human biology is the study of what makes us human," he said. "Try again."
"English is the study of civilization."
"History is the study of civilization," he corrected.
"English is the study of art."
"Art is the study of art."
I let out a flush of air. "English tells us stories."
"If you can't think of anything intelligent to say, don't say anything at all."
I shut my mouth.
"I'd like to talk to you about your essay," said Orville.
"It was - different."
"That's for sure."
He didn't answer, and I thought he might be thinking of how best to fire me from school. I had written this essay at four in the morning, when I had given the finger to thinking up a legitimate argument. Orville had asked me to analyze the use of windows in a novel that had nothing to do with windows. I decided to argue that windows were not windows at all; they were all that separated the savage moorland from the civilized home, Thrushcross Grange from Wuthering Heights, even Cathy from her own self-constructed identities. Windows were the barrier between this world and the next, a barrier as ill-defined as the boundary between the reader and the text itself. It was a bullshit parade, and I was the proud mayor. I used the phrases "Jungian realism" and "linear archetypes," and congratulated myself on achieving a level of douchebaggery I had previously only witnessed in shampoo commercials for men.
"I gather that you do not like what you wrote," he said.
"It was idiotic," I said. "Any fool can find obscure patterns in a novel, fabricate an intention behind it, and then trick people into believing it's relevant. I call that intellectual narcissism."
"I call that creativity," Orville said. "The purpose of literature is to teach you how to think, not how to be practical. Learning to discover the connective tissue between seemingly unrelated events is the only way we are equipped to understand patterns in the real world."