How to Discuss Literature

And Not Be Pretentious

As a human being, I’ve experienced my fair share of moments where instead of speaking, I should have promptly shut my big fat mouth. Usually, this occurs when I have no idea what I’m talking about. Therefor, I believe it is important to pass on to others how to avoid this sort of situation. It also makes for more lucrative discussion to know how to actually argue.

When you actually do know what you’re talking about, and so does the other person:

1. This isn’t life or death. If they don’t believe what you believe, try not to have a heart attack. Instead take a breath.

2. Listen to what it is they believe.

3. Ask them questions about why it is they believe that. (If they cannot offer your at least a brief explanation, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.)

4. If these answers are logical, but you still don’t agree with them, say so. Then explain why you believe what you believe.

5. If they still don’t agree, discuss the differences in your beliefs. Why are these differences emerging? What could you both be missing from the conversation?

6. Make evaluations of your own critiques constantly. And outdated idea will only earn you ridicule.

7. Realize that those in positions of authority are also people and are able to discuss with you their beliefs in order to teach you about why they believe what they do and how you can come to your own conclusions about that subject.

8. Breathe. The reason for discussion isn’t to bully someone else into submission. Good discussion provides moments of actualization that allow you and the person you are having a discussion with to work through your ideas.

9. Pretention hinges on the idea of radical claims. Yes, you can be the next Einstein if you’d like, but you might want some compelling evidence before you start shouting it to the rooftops.

10. Literature is much like science. It relies on observations, theories, and conclusions to operate. There will be shifts in prevailing notions of how literature should be analyzed. Theory of literature helps.

When you know what you’re talking about, but the other person doesn’t:

1. Not everyone is an English studies major.

2. Not every enjoys reading.

3. Explaining literature to a non-literary person should be the same as explaining it to a literary person. Except, you may have to provide additional definitions.

4. By assuming that someone who is not literary does not know anything you are also allowing others in different disciplines to believe the same about yourself.

5. Ask them if they understand what you’ve told them in a polite way. (Does that make sense?)

6. Ask them questions about what the believe to be true about what you are discussing.

7. Ask them why.

8. Explain to them why their ideas don’t make sense to you.

9. Come to a conclusion together about the topic.

10. If a conclusion cannot be made, accept that perhaps you aren’t willing to see the idea differently or that the other person does not accept the idea that you have.

When you don’t know what you’re talking about:

1. You should probably listen instead of talk.

2. Ask questions.

3. Ask questions about your conclusions.

4. Ask for evidence.

5. It’s time you studied this topic.

Published by

Alexandra Stanislaw

Alexandra Stanislaw is the Editor-In-Chief and founder of Devise Literary. She is also an Assistant Editor for Hotel Amerika. Her work appears in Crab Fat Magazine ("The Good Friend" and "Tampa Raised You Up"), Ragazine, and Chicago Review of Books.

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