As English students, the notion that our work will focus on the study and importance of words is a given.
But what does this really mean?
It means that we must be willing to immerse ourselves in words, to lose ourselves in their meaning.
The Power of Words.
The possibilities of what we can achieve and convey through the right choice of words, in the right order, is incredible. Our vocabulary expands all the time, even when we don’t realise it. The way in which we speak and express our ideas is shaped by our unique internal circumstances combined with our surroundings. As a result, our everyday language doesn’t just allow us to show off what we know, but it allows us to formulate another little bit of who we are as individuals.
When you think about it, words hold a lot of force. As humans, words are our primary manner of self-expression- allowing us to externalise our ideas, be it on paper or through speech. The easiest way to see this is through literature. Every book, poem, short story or monologue is, most simply, a combination of different words over the course of a certain number of pages. It's this combination that ultimately creates the unique end product.
The Art of Language.
Think about how many unique pieces of literature have been written, how many new speeches have been made, all using different words in different orders. Words aren’t just important to our everyday life (though their significance here is undeniable), they are the primary force behind any form of creativity. Ideas must be articulated in order to become whole. Some creative works may seemingly have no words in them, such as a drawing or a painting. The ‘words’ here are in each brush stroke or delicate choice of shading. Different kinds of art express ideas in different ways, but the ideas themselves are still being formulated, in the same way that a sentence is constructed.
Our Role as Readers.
In our degrees, we are faced with an onslaught of words every day. As a literature student, most of the time these are other people’s words. Words that have been pieced together to tell stories that will be popular for generations to come, or to create a poem that touches every reader personally.
The ability to and the enjoyment of reading the work of others was perhaps a commonality between students when choosing our courses. What was perhaps less obvious to us, but no less important, was the use of our own linguistic capacities to discuss the texts and engage with them. While this may not have been our primary reason for coming to university, it is the primary reason that we are here, in the grand scheme of things. Most of us will probably initially enjoy a text best when we read it to ourselves, be it in our heads or out loud, and imagine the world created by the author. The next step is to emerge from this privatised world and to amalgamate and edit these different worldviews in order to create our own unique approach to everything we encounter.
Any creative output is a manifestation of the human psyche. As literature students (or indeed simply as readers), discussion and engagement is vital, not just to understanding a text itself but to understanding another fragment of collective human consciousness. Talking is equivalent to thinking. It opens doors to new depths in a text that you may never have otherwise discovered, but first and foremost it enables you to connect to a text wholeheartedly. It’s the surrounding discussions with others that allow you to remember a text for reasons beyond the plotline, and to read on a wavelength of deeper human experience.
Every reader of a text will engage with it differently. Like an art piece or a photograph, literature means something different to every person who is faced with it. Perhaps a poem will remind someone of their childhood, or the protagonist of a novel is the embodiment of a friend or a relative. The imaginative universe of an individual can engender a colourful and intriguing discussion. Likewise, literary texts often provoke emotional reactions from readers, whether this is intended by the author or not. The spectrum of potential emotions is wide ranging. Whilst a character’s actions may be humorous to one of us, they may well evoke anger from someone else. These contradictions allow for an endless conversation, all stemming from someone else’s words on a page.
If a text doesn’t strike a personal chord, then there’s bound to be aspects of it that you like, or don’t. So, next time you pick up a poetry anthology or a novel, open your mind. For the time that you read, forget your prejudices, your politics, and appreciate the literature with a clear mind.
Written by Emily Boothman