Learning from Others
In the setting of a literature classroom, there are numerous opportunities to learn from authors whose works the class discusses. The collegiate classroom experience also provides a multiplicity of opportunities for students to learn about the techniques of analysis and criticism for students from their instructor. The best type of experience, though, comes when students are afforded the opportunity to learn from each other, either through in-class discussions, or through the composition of essays. While I have learned a great deal from my current classmates, I have also been pleasantly surprised by what I have learned from the past students of Literature of the Future, at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.
One of the primary things that I learned from reading the work of previous students is that we can classify the same works as being different future narrative forms. In “Discovering the Truth,” Rebecca Dyda makes a series of astute observations that paint “Better Be Ready By Half Past Eight” as an alternative future tale, while I considered it to be one of the evolutionary order. Previously, I had not considered that Zach’s imagination of his own life as a woman, through becoming Zoe, qualified as a sort of alternative timeline, which it most certainly does. Rebecca also points out that Byron’s struggle with this is sort of reflected in his own alternative timeline, as well as numerous possibilities for his son. In my conception of this story, I considered it to be an evolutionary tale, where gender roles and identities become obsolete, in some none-too-distant future. Clearly, this short story defies one singular narrative type, as both the alternative and evolutionary descriptors are applicable.
I discovered another example of a text that can be interpreted differently than my experience in Christa Van Allen’s essay, entitled “Telling Tales of Tomorrow.” Where I considered Parable to be an evolutionary narrative with apocalyptic elements mixed in, Christa saw the opposite. Her vision of Parable was that it was an apocalyptic tale with portions of the evolutionary narrative as meat. Rebecca also challenged my assumptions about The Time Machine by labeling it as an alternative text, rather than an evolutionary one. Being so absorbed by the Time Travelers observations, as well the relation of his visions to evolutionary theories, I never paused to consider whether various factors contributed to a different future vision on the part of the protagonist. After re-reading the text, I am still not sure that the author thought of this possibility, either, but the truth remains that this possibility cannot be discounted.
I found another good essay written by Liz Davis, called “the Communist Rebellion.” In this essay, Liz argues that the difference between a utopia and dystopia is always in the eye of the beholder. This, now obvious observation challenged my concept of myself as an objective person. I tend to think about things in terms of criteria, with the intent of defining my terms. It must be admitted that she is correct in her assertion – one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Still, reflecting on my own Essay 2, which features a bit of history in the life of HG Wells, I am beginning to doubt whether a utopia can exist at all, particularly in the narrative sense. If any person can imagine a perfect world without pollution, crime, or economic or legal injustice, they can probably just as easily imagine a person who is not happy with the situation (and likely, with decent cause). In this sense, I think that the name “ecotopia” is not apt for the imagined future where humans live in harmony with nature – specifically because of the association with the unattainable utopian ideal. I am convinced that a more sustainable culture, economy, and social structure are all quite within our grasp. I was also interested by Sara Hurt’s article “Connecting High Tech and Low-Tech Fiction.” Her conclusion that one side provides a window to the uninitiated other makes a good point about the educational and inspirational roles of fiction.
The most personally effective of the essays that I read, though, was “The Phoenix Must Burn,” by Timothy Morrow. In reading Morrow’s essay, I learned that the Bible, much like the Homeric timeline, is a story of decline. Another thing that I learned from Morrow is that the Romantic hero and plot are key elements of several future narratives. Because of my singleness of mind, I hardly ever considered how characters in future narratives behave like those from stories of the past or present. From the analysis of narrative types that we have done, I feel that the inclusion of the Romantic plot and character style should be included as a type of sub-genre for categorizing future stories. My favorite part of Morrow’s essay, though, was his reference to the quote from Parable which says, “the Phoenix must burn.” To me, this is the perfect phrase for showing the destruction/rejuvenation cycle of apocalypse narratives.
Reviewing the ideas that the students before us outlined is a very beneficial exercise, particularly in discovering how people can view the same stimuli differently. This difference in perception is both a mystery of life and a fountain of new ideas. The practice of trying to determine an author’s beliefs and motives is largely an experience of looking within one’s self. The privilege of being able to compare notes benefits students by challenging their assumptions and encouraging them to take a second (or third) look at a text and its author. Like the alternative timeline, the magic of literary criticism and analysis creates an infinity of possible interpretations and permutations that are always greater than the intent of the author. In this sense, getting to browse the thoughts of others is a benefit that, when applied with self-reflection, has the ability to greatly enhance perception and sensitivity.