Why Studying Literature Can Be Disturbing For Literature Students

It will be easy, they said. Doesn’t require much effort, they said.

I have loved reading ever since I’ve known the English alphabet. I bonded with Blyton’s fantasy before I fit into my place in the real world. So, choosing my graduation stream was a no-brainer for me, it had to be English Honours, of course!

I began my first semester and it was everything I could ever want. The college was beautiful, my teachers were excellent, the texts were enriching and I had wonderful people around me. I loved that I was in an all girls’ college. I could lay down on the grass in the lawns with my face turned towards the sun and hair ruffling in the breeze and not give a damn about my slipping bra strap or my shirt riding a bit over my stomach. It was very liberating and that, somehow added to the experience studying literature.

With the progression of semesters, I learnt that there is more to reading than only pleasure. I learnt how every text ever written carries social, political, economic and cultural inflections of its period and location in history. I learnt that there could be tons of interpretations of the same words and each reading be correct. I learnt to look for the mute voices, to investigate the power relations; I learnt to question. It was a different world to me, I felt like I had unlocked a huge secret. Everything was perfect. Until now.

I am halfway through my second year and I am dead weary. Though I’ve learnt to question, I know not where to seek answers.Or, if there are any answers to be sought.

The start had been thrilling, because I had unearthed a new capacity inside books, even the ones I’d read and loved before. I was thinking in a new way, a better way. I had become aware of the beings in the fringes, I knew how not to take the author’s words as absolute truth, I was becoming smarter. However, now that the novelty of the exercise has faded, all I’m left with is a deep sense of futility.

studying literatureI know big words like utilitarianism and see its pathetic repercussions in the country’s governance today. I know the conflicts but I have no solutions to offer. I can name a few philosophies and some more theories to attach to certain human actions and decisions but I know not what to make of them. I do not know if we humans have free will or if everything we do, is governed by fate. I do not know if I believe in an afterlife. I do not know whether to believe in God or not. I sit with my family every evening, uttering words of prayer which once used to hold so much sway over me, now rendered meaningless. I see patriarchy and sheer misogyny lining every relationship I’ve ever held dear. Everything seems dreary and desolate, all actions tinged by greed or hate or just plain indifference; it’s just a incessant march towards corruption and pollution and death. No, reading doesn’t bring me pleasure anymore. It exhausts me now.

However, there is one thing I’m thoroughly certain about, the only thing – humans are a bad lot. The collective dismaying weight of the history of human civilization is undeniably a testimony to the fact.

Literature has always been my solace and I have always found strength in books. I have always believed that reading and learning would, if not today, then certainly some day, amount to knowing and understanding. However, I now find that the deeper I delve into what literature has to offer, the more lost I feel. It feels like the utter despair and anguish of the characters who move me the most has been laden on to me. The questions which used to bother people centuries ago are yet to find answers. There is no resolutionThe only consequence of my education is the realisation that all my learning is flawed and prejudiced and inaccurate.

I still have a year and a half worth of literature to study. Maybe I would find my answers there, or, if not, at least some consolation to live with the knowledge that no one really knows. We are parched creatures crawling on hands and knees in search of water, with not even the quiet gurgle of a stream to aid us. No wonder, it leaves one with blue devils.


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