Once upon a midnight dreary, while I struggled with JQuery,
Sighing softly, weak and weary, troubled by my daunting chore,
While I grappled with weak mapping, suddenly a function wrapping
formed a closure, gently trapping objects that had gone before.
Ah, distinctly I remember, it was while debugging Ember,
As each separate dying member left its host for ever more.
Eagerly I wished the morrow–vainly I had sought to borrow
(From my bookmarked trail of sorrow), APIs from Underscore.
There I sat engaged in guessing the meaning of each cursed expression,
Endless callbacks in procession; nameless functions, nothing more,
This and more I sat divining, strength and spirit fast declining,
Disclose the value we're assigning! Tell me - tell me, I implore!
Although Ernest Hemingway's brilliant 1927 story Hills like White Elephants is only three pages long, there are tens of thousands of pages of academic analysis telling us how to read it.
The story itself is little more than tense, disjointed exchange between a man and a woman at a railway station somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid. Instinctive, melodic, enigmatic, irrefutable—the dialog is all we have, and it's all we need.
I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened. — Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway gives us the bare minimum so that we might subconsciously fill the gaps with the logic and imagery of our own existence; he surely didn't intend that blustering pedagogues and glorified cheat sheets should do it for us. And yet, at every turn there is a professor, a critic, or a study guide dishing up symbolism: the woman sees white elephants in the hills because the child she's carrying is “the elephant in the room”; the train tracks are green on one side, barren on the other, evoking the differing attitudes of the main protagonists towards the woman's pregnancy; the woman “recalls psalm 21 as she lifts up her eyes to the hills for help”.
Far from clarifying the original work, such absurdist pseudo-science only serves to obfuscate. A well written work of fiction speaks to something much deeper and more visceral than impersonal theorizing ever could. As the author's work is coated by layer upon layer of scholarly inference, so the beauty, lucidity and intimacy of the original is smothered in the cold, hard varnish of academia. No wonder so many of us leave high school with no interest in literature.
He knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it. — Joseph Heller
I don't know when the quest for the message or the meaning of a work of fiction became a thing. It might have been around the time the definition of literature morphed from a canon of work into a discipline. The idea that you have to study for four years in order to appreciate Hemingway (or Woolf, or Tolstoy, or Wilde) is, to me, as bizarre as the (related) notion that the goal of reading a novel should be to dredge up some profound and indispensable truth which the author has cunningly hidden in the depths of the subtext. Our schools and colleges are awash with self-proclaimed arbiters of authorial intent who would have us approach fiction as though it were a science built on absolute truths. If you ever encounter a multiple choice literature test, burn it. Right or wrong is the product of an education system gone badly awry.
Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live. — Gustave Flaubert
There was an actual book called How to Read a Book published in the 1940s. It focused almost entirely on non-fiction and encouraged the reader to analyze everything ad nauseam. In case you hadn't guessed, this essay is exclusively about fiction (never let mere accuracy get in the way of a good title) and advocates entirely the opposite approach.
Don't subject the text to moralizing, rationalization or allegory. Don't seek knowledge or erudition from fiction; in fact don't ask anything of it. Keep your left brain in check, immerse yourself in the author's world and in doing so gain new perspective on your own.
Read for pleasure. Don't approach a novel as a necessary evil to be digested like broccoli or fish oil; it won't make you smarter, a better conversationalist, get you that dream job or impress your friends. The joy of fiction is much bigger than that: the intimacy of the bond between reader and author, the recognition of self and others by way of the universal traits of the human condition, an encounter with genius on our own terms.
Skip the synopsis on the back cover, it's just mediocre advertising copyright. Ignore the critics, the professors and the study guides. What a book means to them says nothing about your life, and what a book means to you is none of their business. Literary interpretation is phony; the only truth is the text, and your emotional reaction to it.
The Oxford moniker derives from the century-old endorsement of the serial comma by the Oxford University Press manual of style; and the OUP is backed up by a slew of revered authorities: Strunk's Elements of Style, Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage and the Chicago Manual of Style. Why? Because omitting the Oxford comma can result in distressing double meanings:
“She lives with her two children, a cat and a dog.”
Legions of grammarians are quick to point out that while the lack of an Oxford comma can cause ambiguities, its presence never will. Here's something we can all get behind, right?
Well, no, not really, because it turns out that for every phrase that the Oxford comma clarifies, there's another for which it obfuscates. “Through the window she saw George, a policeman and several onlookers” clearly refers to two people and some onlookers. Throw in the Oxford comma and George has become a policeman: “Through the window she saw George, a policeman, and several onlookers”.
Moreover, numerous style guides, including the New York Times and the Associated Press have flat out rejected the Oxford comma. And while there are many Americans who care deeply about their beloved comma, in the UK (outside of the OUP) it's rarely used.
This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again — Gustave Flaubert
A search for “Oxford Comma” on Twitter is rewarded with several linear feet of self righteous indignation from both sides of the argument, with nary a whimper from the blurry middle ground. Ditto Hacker News comments. Ditto blog posts. Both sides are convinced that they are entirely right; yet both sides, as we've seen, are fundamentally wrong. Welcome to the new discourse. Welcome to the internet.
Before the internet, only the privileged few (politicians, authors, journalists, broadcasters, entertainers) could reasonably expect to reach an audience beyond their personal acquaintances. These uber-promulgators were selected by a process which was, if not entirely merit-based, at least conditioned by a minimum threshold of experience, knowledge, eloquence, wit, observation, or reasoning (dictators and aristocrats excepted). And, while those same qualities are also found (in bucket-loads) online they may be threatened by the very nature of the medium.
The internet has a much higher write-to-read ratio than traditional methods of mass content distribution. In television, radio, newspapers, books, film and theatre there is a hard division between a small number of content producers and a large number of content consumers. Not so the internet. Many of us go online with the intention of reading, but before we're done, we've written a bunch of tweets, sent off a comment, or engaged in an all out flame war, almost always in the public domain.
Writing online is so nearly effortless that reading (not to mention reflection, deliberation and thought) has become a chore in comparison. It's easier to jot off a patronizing, indignant or self-aggrandizing missive than it is to take the trouble to read the whole article or give fair consideration to the author's perspective. Thus the vicious circle sets in…
Why go to the trouble of producing a balanced or inquiring article for a medium that encourages rapid-fire feedback over deliberation and reflection? And why, in turn, respond to that article with any semblance of balance in a medium that rewards bite-sized bluster over nuance and accuracy? And why, for that matter, bother reading the article at all, when speed is everything, and you'd better get your soundbite in now because they'll be new outrages to decry tomorrow? Anyone who wanted to learn something about Aaron Swartz before writing about him, to reflect and deliberate on his suicide before offering an opinion was too late, because by then the internet had lost interest and moved on to a hotter topic (horse-meat burgers, or the Harlem Shake, for instance).
There's an ironic footnote to the Oxford Comma story. In July 2011 the internet went berserk on news that, after more than a century, the OUP had overcome its pedantry and dropped its insistence on our petite punctuator.
Twitter raged with the fires of Hades. Writers, editors and journalists fired off a stream of doom-laden electronic missives until…, until someone took a deep breath, took the time to read the article properly, and realized that the new guideline was issued not by the Oxford University Press per se, but merely by a PR subsidiary whose decisions had no bearing on the OUP proper. Much egg was left on many faces, but in the end it didn't really matter, because it was on the internet, so no-one gave it much thought anyway…..a bit like this article…hey, do you think I'll make it to Hacker News?…wait, is this thing still on?…
The donkey is a sad, ungainly creature. He really doesn't want to be doing this. Forlornly, he logs in for yet another humdrum day of struggling with this silly, upstart language which doesn't even have proper types. Oh the futility of it all.
Mules are as doleful as donkeys but stubborn to boot. Mules don't forget, and will doggedly persist with patterns learned from other languages. They're nostalgic for the syntax of yesteryear (in particular new Object() and new Array()) and will beat their hooves in mulish frenzy at variables that refuse to be block-scoped. Sadly, mules frequently suffer from chronic classitus. Please help in any way you can.
Owls are wise and they know everything. Peering disdainfully from their lofty perches, they know what's good for you, and if you disagree, you must be an idiot. But let's be grateful: if it weren't for the owl's benevolent wisdom we'd still be breaking the internet with those unfathomable ++ incrementors and putting var statements in our for loops. Thanks owls!
The poor mouse is not really sure of its bearings and is too afraid to ask. Mice will never really learn, because they just do what the owl books tell them to. But that's okay because owls know everything. And also because owls eat mice.
Parrotpsittaciformes ad nauseus
The anteater has a massive snout, the better to meddle in other people's projects. Anteaters can usually be found on GitHub fussing about some improbable edge case or other. Unfortunately their sensitivity doesn't really extend beyond their humungous sniffers; you can't just ask an anteater to go away, it will hunker down in your repo until you merge that accursed pull request.
Catfelix ex semicolonus
Cats are pretty smart. They know most of the stuff that owls do, but they're not really into that discipline thing, in fact they're mavericks, and that really annoys owls. Tell a cat what to do and they'll look you in the eye and do something else. Cats are naturally curious. To them The Good Parts are the dull parts. Other animals think cats are playing with fire; cats know that they're keeping the language alive.