I’ve often been told by one of my professors that “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” and each time those words grace his lips, my gut turns in acknowledgment of my own ignorance. So I thought to myself: the best way to conquer a text is to be prepared with the best literary ammunition.
What do I mean by literary ammo? It’s having writers like Homer, Faulkner, Joyce, and Shakespeare in your back pocket and pulling them out to make connections in a piece of work so that allusions and references don’t fly over your head. It is the big gun in conversations, it steals ground for you in arguments, and gives you literature to love in your spare time. Ammunition is what you become equipped with when you study survey class after survey class, finding all of the best moments in the literary canon.
I can enjoy a movie and laugh at all of the typical punch lines, but I may have missed that hilarious pun on Virginia Woolf, or failed to notice that the Spongebob Movie is really a glorified cartoon version of the Odyssey. The more you learn, the more humor can exceed the common slap-stick comedy. People aren’t aware of the references right before their eyes, and so they miss out on the great moments when our present culture mimics or makes fun of our rich past.
This ammunition extends beyond popular culture; it is also a crucial element in understanding why our authors write the things they do, what interests motivate them, and knowing what they mean when they reference a person, place, or thing. That’s another value of a liberal arts education – for those people in studies separate from the humanities, you’ll be thanking your professors when you’re the only one laughing in a crowded theater, or you understand the hobbies of the people you are studying because you had to take a lit course. These things come together to make you more knowledgeable and complex.
As literate people, we owe it to ourselves to expand our knowledge by diving into huge varieties of many different books and expertise. We have these opportunities to reap the culture and knowledge of our past in ways that make us deeper, more humane individuals. So, expand your literary horizons, increase your ammunition, and as you absorb each page, stanza, or phrase, know that you are creating a better version of yourself.
by Kimberlee Roberts