I feel that perhaps I should expand on my last post, You Are Not Your Genre. When I was preparing to graduate from high school, it was of the utmost importance to my mother that I enroll in a post-secondary institution immediately. I wasn’t so keen. My best friend and I went to one of those open-house events in the school gym where universities and colleges from all over the province had set up booths with representatives and pamphlets and free pens. We strolled along, occasionally stopping at one or two, but since he had already been accepted into his school of choice, and I was less than thrilled with the whole venture, we mostly just looped the gym waiting for the bell to ring.
One of the representatives made eye contact with me as I walked by and started up a conversation. It was for a university that I had a bit of interest in, so I stopped, albeit reluctantly. He went on about my “lovely European accent” (amusing, since I don’t have one), and started to tell me about the writing program. I glanced at the reading list for the first year and realized that I had read more than half of them already. That meant that my time there would be spent making assumptions about authors and their families that were long-dead and from another era. Why didn’t this interest me? Because I spent too much time in high school dissecting Poe and Shakespeare and Orwell to want to do any more of it.
The writers that we studied in school weren’t people anymore. They were stories. We wrote essays about why Poe was so dark and twisted and guessed at the reasons. We spent hours discussing why Shakespeare wrote the things that he wrote, and who he wrote them for. We talked about them as if their stories were directly linked to their miseries, their lovers, and their lives. They were no longer just people who wrote a good story, we were being taught to learn who they were and what made them that way just by looking at their words.
This makes no sense to me. I understand that there will always be speculation, and sometimes I am sure that the speculation lands fairly close to the mark. However, to paint these writers as we do in school from knowing nothing about them other than the small amount we have been taught should not give us the right to decide who or what these people were. I don’t want someone to find an old story of mine someday and decide that I must have had a hard, miserable life. I don’t want people to think that I suffered beyond measure because I wrote a piece of horror. I don’t want people to look at my work and try to guess at what fueled my fire.
You see assumptions made that Tolkien must have based LOTR on Christianity. Poe must have been depressed for most of his life (except for the apparently happy time during his marriage). Shakespeare must have been in love with another man. Margaret Atwood wrote everything from a feminist viewpoint. We are taught to seek reason behind brilliance, but sometimes it just isn’t there. Sometimes brilliance is just brilliance and that’s that.
There are millions of other examples out there of how we are taught, and society encourages us, to seek deeper meaning behind popular stories. That’s what I don’t want. To have my personality decided based on my writing. To have non-existent reasons linking me and my stories together. This, to me, is the study of assumptions.
What are your thoughts?