Poetry, Fiction, Drama
11 February 2013
Traits of the Unliterary
In today’s world we often lack the ability to appreciate the true essence within literature. Readers are constantly dealing with the tendency of misjudging a book without actually reading for its purpose. According to C.S Lewis, literature exists for the joy of the reader and should be judged based on the reader’s moral effort towards diving into the text. He brings forth a strong conviction on how one analyzes literature. The usual way of criticizing texts is to focus on the books themselves. In Lewis’ experiment, he shifts his attention towards the reader and not the piece of literature. It is easier to grasp the idea that one’s interpretation of a book will depend on how it’s read.
In An Experiment in Criticism there are two different ways in which readers approach literature. Lewis refers to them as “the literary” and “the unliterary.” The literary or few are the readers that will read a book with technique and truly appreciate the achievement of reading to understand the text. They will normally reread a book multiple times, as Lewis says, “Those who read the great works, on the other hand will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their lives” (2). The few are constantly looking to dive deeper into literature for better comprehension. These readers would be so moved by a book that it can actually change their perspectives in life.
In contrast to the literary reader is what C.S. Lewis calls the unliterary or many. These types tend to read with a selfish motive and only search the text to find things that benefit them. An unliterary reader reduces literature’s usefulness and uses it for his own good. It’s very obvious that a literary reader only reads once as Lewis says, “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work,” which limits their understanding of the text (2). Instead of exploring the text like the literary, the many only read for particular events or when it’s necessary.
After evaluating Lewis’ description of the literary and unliterary, I am now able to identify that I relate more to the unliterary. I agree with Lewis’ description of the unliterary as he uses the five characteristics of unliterary readers. The five characteristics state that the unliterary read only for events, have no literary ear, and are not conscious of style. The last two characteristics infer that the many dislike much dialogue and demand what Lewis calls swift- moving narration. These are the different components that make a difference in how unliterary readers approach the text.
The many will only read for events the majority of the time, just to find out what’s next (“Unliterary”). Unliterary readers favor the option of reading narratives, usually about an event that can possibly happen. In fact Lewis makes a comment criticizing this attitude. He states, “The most unliterary reader of all sticks to ‘the news’. He reads daily with unwearied relish substances which never become quite clear, someone he doesn’t know has married, rescued, robbed, raped, or murder someone else he doesn’t know” (28). I enjoy reading about facts or events that have happened or could happen in the future because it seems more relevant than choosing a fictional book. For example, one of my favorite books is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and I can read it almost every day without becoming fatigued or bored. It is easy to relate to as it explains different doctrines of the Christian faith that contribute to everyday life for a Christian. However, I’ve realized this habit can hinder my intellect as I choose not to stretch my imagination with a fictional piece of literature. In order to change this aspect, altering my motives for reading will be necessary. Instead of limiting my reading choices of certain topics, I will choose