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· Marked with the Cross of Literary Criticism ·

I've been incommunicado recently, marking tests and papers in my three classes. Though often dull, the work earns my academic keep and of course keeps some of my students — suffering, struggling, and complaining — semi-sharp. Stylistically, it always takes regular grinding on the old blue pencil, yet sometimes it gives me a good occasion for real learning.

Take today's lesson. A student reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, A Tale for Children," had a basic problem — one we discussed in conference. Though marking Marquez's point by reading his tale as saying something about abusive, careless treatment of the old, she delineated his point by speaking not directly about Marquez but about our nursing homes and hospices. So I had to mark the simple difference between literature and life, between Marquez's writing indirectly about life, but she, alas, not quite directly about "A Very Old Man."

Then hitting her head with her hand, she brightened: "I get it. Like all those children's stories I write, his story has a moral, but I have to go in reverse, from the moral backwards to the story, not the other way around. Still, it's the same point."

On the day after Ash Wednesday, I'd hope you would get my point:

We have to ask, critically, who's getting marked by whom. Criticism's cross, I mean to say, is maybe even our own to bear.


— Our cross to bear, yes. "The unexamined life is not worth living," or so I hear.

Posted by Loretta on March 1, 2004 03:33 PM
Posted by Styles on March 2, 2004 08:45 AM

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