The Dangers of Loosening Up By Thinking Aloud
Posted by Barbara Leavy on Feb 22 2011, 3:22 PM

To allow your reader to hear you thinking aloud can entail the risk of turning that reader off.  Do we really want to listen to a concert pianist practice his musical scales and do finger exercises?  How many of us would be elated to watch a ballet dancer at the barre, unless we were dance teachers watching prize students or proud parents or grandparents watching our young ones?  Figure skating champions enthrall us with their astonishing, choreographed dance numbers on ice.  But behind their displays are hours spent each day tracing figures: eights, threes, loops.  Do we buy tickets to watch these seemingly endless repetitions?

No, we want product, not process.

And if we were invited by the performer to watch the process, would we accept with any enthusiasm?.  Unlikely.  We would probably think the performer was at best self-indulgent.  Why then, should I think I offer you anything in claiming that one of my ways of loosening up is to let you at times listen to me think aloud?  Isn't the literary critic a kind of intellectual performer? Well, there are two reasons.

First, sometimes a provocative idea concerning a literary work of art can be just that, a provocative idea that might stimulate thought.  External evidence (the author's diary, a letter, annotations in a book the author has read) may not exist and internal evidence might be ambiguous, leading elsewhere than the place the critic is taking it.  Should we just scrap the idea for that reason. Second, and once again, to interpret a work is not the same as adding two plus two and arriving at four (I have used this analogy elsewhere).  Many great works of literature lead to contradictory readings and thereby do literary debates arise.  How one gets to where one goes in interpreting the text is an essential part of the debate; that is, process may become as important as product.

If I am being self-indulgent when I invite you to share mere speculation, sometimes supported with very little evidence, you will have an opportunity to tell me so by replying to my posting.  But to supply you with an example, go to my sample essay and revisit my speculation that THE BLOOD DOCTOR can be placed in a large body of artistic works on the Faust legend.  Did Ruth Rendell ever say anything to lead to my speculation.  No.  Not that I know of.  If anything, she is modestly reluctant to be compared to the great writers of modern times.  I have only the theme of her novel and one piece of internal evidence on which to base my argument. One might say I am just thinking aloud.  

Still, I hope you are pleased that in my discussion of THE BLOOD DOCTOR, I shared my speculation with you.

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