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Tyler

Harper Lee - Go Set a Watchman

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One of the most fascinating things about these revelations--to me--is that they confirm stuff scholars and critics have already been pointing out in Mockingbird. Here's Malcolm Gladwell. And here's a couple of other scholars. [i had seen the first, but not the second, before Peter posted it over on Facebook]. It's fairly rare, I think, that these sorts of criticisms are confirmed so soundly; a comparable event would be the discovery that Margaret Mitchell wrote a version of Gone with the Wind that was deeply critical of Lost Cause Mythology.

 

As someone who hasn't read Mockingbird, I have no profound emotional ties to the novel, but the other interesting thing to me is that Lee has--inadvertently--managed to inflict on a generation or two of readers precisely the same shock that Scout undergoes in the novel. That's...again, unique as far as I know.

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One of the most fascinating things about these revelations--to me--is that they confirm stuff scholars and critics have already been pointing out in Mockingbird. Here's Malcolm Gladwell. And here's a couple of other scholars. [i had seen the first, but not the second, before Peter posted it over on Facebook]. It's fairly rare, I think, that these sorts of criticisms are confirmed so soundly; a comparable event would be the discovery that Margaret Mitchell wrote a version of Gone with the Wind that was deeply critical of Lost Cause Mythology.

 

As someone who hasn't read Mockingbird, I have no profound emotional ties to the novel, but the other interesting thing to me is that Lee has--inadvertently--managed to inflict on a generation or two of readers precisely the same shock that Scout undergoes in the novel. That's...again, unique as far as I know.

Haven't read Watchmen--probably won't. 

 

What the stories surrounding it have actually made me think about is Stanley Fish's "Eskimo" reading of "A Rose for Emily" in Is There a Text in this Classroom? For those who aren't familiar with Fish's work, he explores the limit's of interpretation--basically claiming that there is no interpretation so wrong that a text *can't* support it. He claimed that even a ridiculous reading, such as one that said "A Rose for Emily" was about Faulkner's belief that he was a reincarnated Eskimo would suddenly become viable if there were some cause--such as the discovery of autobiographical evidence that Faulkner *did* believe this, which in turn would send critics back to the text to *discover* passages that would support such a reading when they had previously said there was none. 

One of the reasons, I suspect, that the novel will make such a stink is not just because people are *emotionally* invested in Atticus/Mockingbird but because they are *professionally* invested in certain readings/interpretations of Mockingbird. Reminds me in some ways of the extreme difficulty that C.S. Lewis scholars had in integrating The Dark Tower and the Hooper letters into their overall interpretation of the arc of his work/career....even to the point of attempting to falsify or exclude TDT as inauthentic. I would not be surprised to see some attempts to do the same to Watchmen. Whatever its quality, the responses seem already mapped out. One can use it, as NPR suggests, to reevaluate Mockingbird, or one can try to preserve Mockingbird in its institutionalized interpretative forms by dismissing Watchmen. Doesn't sound like there's a whole lot of room for integrating (no pun intended) the two...unless maybe one uses Watchmen as evidence that childhood Scout was meant to be read as unreliable narrator and nobody picked up on that.

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I think this is a bit different from Fish's scenario, though, because what's happening is that stuff critics were already saying seems to be now confirmed as, at the very least, present in Lee's mind when she wrote Mockingbird. This is less a matter of appealing to biography as it is of looking at the text's development and seeing where elements that have been observed in the later version have a much clearer, or at least more obvious, manifestation in the earlier one.to take the Faulkner example, it's more as if critics had said for years that "Emily" was about Faulkner's belief that he was a reincarnated Eskimo and then discovered an earlier draft where he comes out and says as much.

One of the reasons, I suspect, that the novel will make such a stink is not just because people are *emotionally* invested in Atticus/Mockingbird but because they are *professionally* invested in certain readings/interpretations of Mockingbird. Reminds me in some ways of the extreme difficulty that C.S. Lewis scholars had in integrating The Dark Tower and the Hooper letters into their overall interpretation of the arc of his work/career....even to the point of attempting to falsify or exclude TDT as inauthentic. I would not be surprised to see some attempts to do the same to Watchmen. Whatever its quality, the responses seem already mapped out. One can use it, as NPR suggests, to reevaluate Mockingbird, or one can try to preserve Mockingbird in its institutionalized interpretative forms by dismissing Watchmen. Doesn't sound like there's a whole lot of room for integrating (no pun intended) the two...unless maybe one uses Watchmen as evidence that childhood Scout was meant to be read as unreliable narrator and nobody picked up on that.

Ah, now the Lewis parallel is one I didn't think of. Good call. And I agree--insofar as there's much written on Mockingbird. A JSTOR search turns up 57 pages of articles with titles like "More Than One Way to (Mis)Read a 'Mockingbird'" from The Southern Literary Journal 43: 1--which article spends so much time talking about the novel's genesis that it, at least, will have to be re-considered (for the rest, the article observes that by 2010 criticism on Mockingbird was already stuck in a rut, tracing and re-tracing certain well-worn ideas of sexuality and race. The article also suggests that in some ways Scout is an unreliable, or at least a not-uncomplicated, narrator, so I wouldn't say that angle has gone unnoticed). This new book will cause difficulty for some readings. And I think the pre-emptive questioning of Lee's mental state, as well as questions over the book's "canonicity," are already attempting to write the book--and its troubling Atticus--out of existence. Edited by NBooth

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For me the Eskimo example was not so much about an interpretation everyone thought was wrong being proved right as about whether or not a text *could* be used to support any interpretation. 

I understand that Watchmen was less a sequel than a text Lee wrote before Mockingbird, so it seems more likely that Atticus didn't so much change for the worse as for the better. 
 

But anyhow, I think this text allows people who read TKaM against the grain some space to argue they aren't just whistling in the dark.

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I listened to this as an audiobook with my wife on the drive for a family vacation this week. I consider To Kill a Mockingbird a book I remember enjoying somewhat in high school, while it is a treasured classic for her and with that as background, I think I enjoyed it a bit more than she did. 

 

I had read this blog post prior to hearing the book, and I agree with its conclusions. 

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On 19.2.2016 at 5:33 PM, Tyler said:

Wait what?!?!?! That's so sad. I'm so upset! And so quickly after this second novel came out too. What a shame. Did you guys know that she spent time traveling with Truman Capote when he was writing In Cold Blood? Capote was her inspiration for Dill in To Kill a Mocking Bird. I thought that was really cool when I first found that out. 

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