On to better thoughts. Just recently, like about ten minutes ago, I was being a good college student and reading an essay for my literary theory class. It was okay. I don't have anything against it as a piece of literature.
Basically, the whole essay was about whether or not literature could be ethical and thus make its readers more ethical. I don't know why that matters, but obviously it must to the author. (Who also happens to be my teacher. What a strange coinkydink, right? Yeah...)
To make a long essay short, I came away with one thing, and it was a quote. Perhaps I should have come away with more, but hey, this is literary theory I'm talking about, not Algebra. There is no clear answer.
"Reading is just that: a way of giving way not only to a host of alien words, images, ideas, but also to the very alien principle which utters them and shelters them."
I grant that it doesn't make much sense out of context of the essay, but if you'd read it, you'd also know that the theorist Georges Poulet was being referenced for his theory (so many theories!) that by reading, one puts oneself into the hands of the author and allows the book to invade one's mind and become "the subject of thoughts other than my own."
Let's pause and think about this for a minute, and I'm going to dumb this down to my own level, possibly losing some of the meaning behind what Poulet said, but if it's lost, I say I didn't need it in the first place. He should learn to theorize more clearly.
As readers (and writers which I know a lot of you are) we have the particular pleasure of delving into a work of literature and in doing so, we open ourselves up to new ideas, new experiences, and many times those things are completely foreign to us. In order to get the full effect of some piece of literature, you have to be willing to immerse yourself completely, losing your own pre-conceived ideas about life or what-have-you, and thus permitting the "alien" to be sheltered inside your own mind.
Now, this may sound kinda creepy. I admit that. However, once you think about it, it makes sense. As writers, we want to have a lasting effect on our audience. We want to convey at least some portion of what we mean to them, and it is our ultimate hope that they experience things the way you actually intended them to be read.
I know how frustrating it is to write something, to know exactly what you mean, and then have someone come along and blindly read a piece and pronounce it dull, boring, unreadable, horrible, etc. It's heartbreaking. If only they could SEE things the way you do, they would understand!
That is what Poulet (and that quote waaaaay up there) meant. As readers, we must be conscious of how we read, because if we only read with a sliver of our attention, we're doing the work and the author a disservice. Also, we're not reading to our fullest potential.
Another way to interpret Poulet's little idea, is that all literature is attempting to be a form of mind control. And that idea just used up my allotment of Crazy Speak for the day.
I don't know if any of what I just wrote made any sense, but if it helps, I typed the entire thing while speaking what I typed aloud in a British accent. So, if you weren't already reading what I've written in a British accent, well, just think of this last paragraph as me apologizing for not telling you sooner that that was what I was doing. Oh well. Cheerio!