Graduate school in literature can ruin your ability to read for pleasure…
Noia llegint, Joan Llimona
The hermeneutics of suspicion is built on centuries of philosophical and pedagogical ideologies that separate body and mind, then rank the mind above the body. As feminist critics have pointed out, these are sexist ideologies, because they associate the mind, in all its rational dimensions, with men, and the body with women, effeminacy and femininity. Indeed, universities were largely closed to women until the 20th century, in part because male academics claimed that women were incapable of distancing their emotions from their thinking. Generations of women had to prove themselves in the academy by being more rational, more clinical, more careful about how they showed emotion to male colleagues; only in the 1970s did feminist critics in Paris such as Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous – whose work influenced Sedgwick and Warner – begin to question the assumption that bodies and feelings had no place in literary criticism.
Growing up, I loved books. I loved them so much that I went to graduate school to study them, and I didn’t read a novel for five years. One of the terrible secrets about attending graduate school in literature is that it can ruin your ability to read for pleasure; pick up a book, and a nasty voice whispers that you should be reading something serious – or reading something seriously. So in the classroom, I learned to put away my body. Outside of the academy, however, specifically through fanfiction, I was learning to read with it.
I discovered fanfiction in 2001, when I was 16, unhappy at school, and frequently mistaken for a boy in women’s bathrooms. I’d joined a number of web mailing listservs, desperate to make friends, and I remember vividly the first time one of the fanfiction writers I followed posted a story she’d written about a character from The Lord of the Rings. I was staggered. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. Suddenly, I had a word for a genre that I had known intimately for years.
I’d always fantasised about stepping into books and having adventures with my favourite characters. Now I wrote them down and shared them. Strangers left positive comments on each chapter. I discovered that I could write.