Sometimes I wonder why I’m forced to analyse words so much. I mean, I do do a Classics degree, and a literature-heavy one at that, and write commentaries and read endless amounts of poems, plays and stories in three different languages such that I crash and my brain ends up in a sloppy, sentient soup. But what it all really boils down to is this: what do you feel when you read?
It seems that once you hit a certain literary age, you’re forced to treat every single word like it’s a Vice or Guardian Culture article and you’re expected to write whole essays on the exact placement of a single four-letter word in the whole Aeneid and why that somehow reveals everything about Aeneas’ awful character and suddenly expands the whole universe contained within that dickwad epic.
I’m definitely guilty of this too. Read this line from one of my school essays for GCSE English: “[In Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art] Bishop uses the word ‘it’. This word has an intrinsic ambiguity, meaning that loss affects everyone and everything, but it will not impact us as the reader if we do not put any connection to it in the first place.”. I hate it. As cringe as your drunk uncle at a wedding launching himself onto the stage and crashing the newly wedded couple’s first dance to another terrible rendition of that song from Dirty Dancing. Funny thing is, people – (I mean, my tutors) – would actually read that and think it worthy analysis. I guess that’s part of Classics’ inability to attract students – the fact that you have to be so far up your own arse in literary pretence that you can see through the gaps in your teeth – but it also ruins the fun of reading literature. People love finding meaning within literature and art, but really when you read, you don’t see that. You just feel something.
That’s why Bill Wurtz is the perfect example of art that shakes the core of artistic criticism. His music reminds you of that lost age before the Y2K bug, where computer start up noises made you simply thrilled to use dogshit rollerball computer mice. But that’s his music, and last time I checked I didn’t do music. In fact, I do Classics. And you know what classicists do best? Read shit literature and practise literary criticism all day long: Bill Wurtz and why his lyrics are amazing.
Everything’s green and gold, so I’m not in hell yet – Mount St Helens is about to Blow Up, 2k18
This is probably one of my favourite song lyrics of all time. I could start off with some quality literary analysis. “Yah, so the essence of green here is the idea of renewal and rebirth tied in with nature and spring, whilst gold signifies riches and heaven”, but in fact that would do a disservice to the joy of Bill Wurtz’ lyrics. He says a lot in his Genius video about this song, and while some rap geniuses talk in depth about the meaning of their bars, Bill just seems so chill and carefree: “I chose these lyrics cos they just felt floaty, slippy, windy, get lost”.
Literary criticism seems to put this artificial mould over our words and imply that of course we mean every word we say. But when we read, we don’t think through that same process. We just speak and words come out and hopefully they’re the right ones. Words are slippery little creatures – perhaps why we write them down. When you really think about it, do you mean to say 100% of all the words you say?
So why do we do the same for literary criticism and writing? Because someone else has written them and put thought into them and thus we deem it worthy for thousands and thousands of essays of analysis and criticism because we expect the author to have spent as many hours as we have in choosing exact words, when really they may have just chosen those words because they’re “slippy, windy, floaty”. Life would be so much easier if we see these words as floaty as the writers themselves.
I don’t have enough time to say the things I want to say, to do the things I want to do – La de da de da de da de day oh, 2k18
It’s so uplifting to hear words that are so simple yet echo within me. Poetry needn’t be a treacherous path to tread upon where one word in a certain place means 1000 meanings nor this super-hyper-ultra-fancy and pretentious art that we hold oh so dear, where we occupy not a seat, nay, not even a foothold. Bill Wurtz may not produce poetry as high-flying as Virgil, Auden or Shakespeare; but that doesn’t mean his song lyrics don’t mean anything, and often the critic’s viewpoint really means absolutely nothing to actual people. We should chow down our own slice of humble pie and take ourselves down a notch when reviewing art that we at first consider to be a load of crap.
In the words of Anton Ego,
The work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement…the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
Ratatouille is a fantastic work of art but this quote is really important to understand, especially for me: as readers of a culture page, we may think that anything pop culture at first seems low brow and crass and no match for the classics of Homer, Racine and Wilde, but it’s clear what’s more popular. So let’s stop overindulging ourselves in literary analytical masturbation over pleonasms and polyptotons aplenty and enjoy those wibbly, wobbly, slippy, slidy words instead.