Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Please, tell me what I think!

So, I'm writing a research paper on Asian-American writers, and have read several works of criticism on various authors including one of my all-time favorite authors, Amy Tan. They go on and on about how Tan does this, and Tan does that, she says this, and she says that. This literary device--is a deliberate use of such such and such and such and such.

The reason I find this so funny, (albeit standard in the world of literary criticism) is that I recently read her auto-biography, The Opposite of Fate, and she humorously says, ~well, since unlike Stienbeck and others who are now dead, I am still alive and can refute literary criticism assigned to me by students and reviewers! She says she writes just for fun, writes exactly what she wants to write, does not intentionally say this or that, is not on a quest for enlightening the world about the Chinese culture, and does not feel she has to answer to the likes of Frank Chin and others who call her a sell-out and a conformist to white/dominant standards. She says she writes because if she didn't--what is inside of her would explode.

So, today sitting in the public library reading Sui-Ling Cynthia Wong's, scathing report on Tan, entitled "Sugar Sisterhood," I was told exactly what I think about, when I read Tan's novels.

According to Wong, this is what I get out of Amy Tan:

I [The American reading public], "enthusiasitic[ally] purchase [with a] pleasurable mixture of respect and voyeurism, admiration and condescension, humility and self-congratulation." And that I am allowed the position of feeling distanced, and better than Chinese-Americans, and can now segement the Chinese culture as an important source for my pleasure, and "accept and appreciate a "mythic" treatment of a remote but fascinating China." *

Maybe I am the only one that finds this quite funny, but I wrote in the margin of my photocopy,

"Oh, really! Please tell me how I am reading/ what I am getting out of my own favorite novels!"

I read Amy Tan, not to criticize or romantisize China, I read it because, well, I just like it!

*Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong, Sugar Sisterhood, The Ethnic Canon, Edited by David Palumbu Liu, Minnesota, Univeristy Press, 1995.


Scully said...

This is precisely the reason I rejected an English major in the first place. I hate being told what I think. In literature sometimes a banana is just a banana and assigning meaning outside anything delineated by the author themselves is ludicrous. I ran into the same thing in art history. Besides, most people read for enjoyment, because they find a certain level of connection between characters and themselves. And Amy Tan is a good writer who writes good stories within her realm of experience. Just like every other author. Just like readers, writers have a level of connection to their creations. Ugh, critics.

aquamarine said...

Interesting how a reader is smart enought to put the words together and create an understanding, but can't develop a meaning the author has already laid out?!

I read because I like to, not because I am developing these far fetched ideas of other places, societies or the like.

Besides, didn't our mothers always tell us, I think should be applied to these critiques, if we don't have anything nice to say, don't say it. lol

Panini said...

I haven't read Amy yet...but tell me where to start with her and I will. As far as assigning meaning...I think I like creates the possibility of more depth even if it wasn't originally intended.

aquamarine said...

I like meaning, I just want it to be my own. ;)

SJ said...

Panini-The Joy Luck Club. It's classic Tan.

Scully said...

Panini, my favorites are The Hundred Secret Senses and The Bonesetter's Daughter.

Esperanza said...

My favorite it The Bonesetter's Daughter, then The Kitchen God's Wife, I like all of her work, Joy Luck Club the least. Also, Amy Tan is an acquired taste, so I can't look down on anyone who does not like her, or find 100% of her scenes appropriate.

Esperanza said...

I actually quite enjoy reading literary criticism, because I can't always pick out the "meaning" in the books, I am much more of an asethic reader than an epherent reader! But, I don't like people telling me what I am getting out of things! ;) jk.

mj said...

as a former english major (or are you always what your major was?) and a fiction writer i am familiar with both sides of the debate but i don't think literary criticism is particularly harmful most of the time and sometimes it is quite insightful. a lot of literary criticism will tell you "the author is dead" anyway--meaning the author's intention is not necessarily what criticism is trying to get at anyway. so i say think want you will, publish what you think, read other people's opinions at your own risk, don't let anyone stop you from enjoying what you do (unless what you do is illegal or morally reprehensible).