Engaged annotation (L:HtR/UtW)

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 10.18.53 AMWritten for lovers of literature interested in self-actualization, Literature: How to Read and Understand the World teaches readers how to derive principles of wisdom from literature and apply them to their lives. The book achieves this through a series of five essential steps, including identifying with literary characters, aggregating principles of wisdom from their experience, and applying those principles to readers’ lives. Along the way, the author reveals his own transformation through this process. Literature: How to Read and Understand the World will help you to enrich your life and world!

Over the next several months, I will be releasing excerpts from the book along with questions to keep readers thinking after reading the posts. If you are intrigued by what you read, please share with a friend!

Traditional annotations are helpful for analyzing literary texts from the Balcony, but they do not represent things a character themselves would know if we were to step into that character’s perspective. Furthermore, continuing in making annotations like these indefinitely, we do nothing to challenge our own Stories of Perfection; we thus make ourselves increasingly brittle to novelties of experience, as well as throw away all the wisdom we could gain through instead identifying with literary characters, then turning around and applying what we learn to our lives.

In contrast, my engaged annotation for this same moment from when I read Huckleberry Finn for this book reads as follows:

Some of Huck’s qualities:

Obsession with death, and an outright desire to be dead

Superstition, which Huck shows by turning around three times etc. in response to killing a spider

(As Huck, I am bored with myself, and looking for anything fanciful to distract me. This is an interesting, rather adult disposition. By what means do I come to it?)

What this annotation shares with traditional annotation is the first step of identifying a circumstance in the novel I’m reading, in this case Huck’s superstition when accidentally killing the spider. However, steps two and three differ by situating me in the perspective of the character: instead of making an allusion to something outside Huck’s perspective, I situate myself in the character’s perspective starting with the phrase “as Huck;” and rather than either make a speculation or ask a question about this passage’s meaning, I ask a question about my own behavior as Huck. In Engaged Annotation, we will find that meaning and conceptual structures are abstractions we rarely broach, since they are not things the characters themselves would reasonably think about; these characters are concerned with living rather than expounding upon their lives.

Do you have methods of getting out of your head and into the characters’ hearts while you read fiction? If so, what do you do? What do you perceive the benefits to be in making this transition? For more on these topics, please follow my blog or grab a copy of the book for yourself.

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