This morning, I read a post by a good friend of mine, sistermagpie, over at LiveJournal, in which she talked about some conversations she’d seen recently revolving around whether academic analysis could ruin a person’s enjoyment of fiction. The crux of her post was that she couldn’t imagine that analyzing a story could ruin her love of reading, and when I first read her argument, I was in complete agreement. Wouldn’t analysis simply deepen my love for something, by helping me to fully understand and appreciate the depth of the material? Then I remembered my state of mind when I left the commercial theater business, and my brain said, “Oooooooh, that’s right.”
As a young professional in New York, I was enthusiastic and tireless, madly in love with the life I had chosen and the incredible work I was allowed to be a part of. Even the “day job” I turned to in-between contracts (handing out headsets to the hearing impaired at Broadway shows) allowed me to stay immersed in theater pretty much 24/7. Every single person I spoke to on a regular basis was in the business, one way or another, and we talked for hours, at diners in the afternoon or bars after our shows, discussing and dissecting every aspect of whatever show we were in at the time, or whatever show we’d just seen. In my spare time, I composed passionate arguments about how the first twenty of minutes of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel is the most perfect example of the craft of transitioning from dialogue to song in the history of musical theater, or rapturous descriptions of my experiences standing in the wings listening to “My Friends” during a production of Sweeney Todd, or “Bali Ha’i” in South Pacific.
And then it happened. I started to hate it. I started to hate theater. I didn’t really notice it at first. A critical eye becomes natural in the business, being necessary for developing and improving one’s own work, and it took quite a while for me to realize that this way of perceiving everything as a critic had made it nearly impossible to enjoy anything I ever saw onstage. My mind instinctively catalogued and analyzed every imperfection in the script, music, production, and performance. The pure joy I once felt in watching a piece of good theater was no longer possible to attain. Every bit of praise in my mind was reduced to nothing but technical analysis, or immediately tempered by some piece of criticism. Joyous descriptions of the beauty or craft of this piece or that gave way to lengthy, often bitter lists of various pieces’ shortcomings. The argument praising the craft of Carousel became a tirade about how the reason everyone started writing sung-through musicals was that they all lacked the skill to do otherwise. I knew too much, I’d analyzed too long, and love (even *like*) had became impossible.
Reading sistermagpie’s post now, I wonder if maybe this is what happens to some academics with fiction. Recently, while discussing my emotional involvement with NANA, another friend mentioned that she knew a number of English professors who probably hadn’t “genuinely cared about a character or breathlessly turned a page since they were little.” Hearing that made me feel incredibly sad, yet even then it didn’t occur to me that I actually know what that feels like. I wonder if, on some level, this is why I’ve avoided trying to write real reviews of manga, choosing instead to rave about the series I really love, allowing myself to feel that pure joy I lost for theater long ago. I think it would break my heart if I ever lost that joy in manga. Manga has brought so much of it into my life, and at an unprecedented rate. I already lost my first true love. I don’t think I could bear to lose another.
After all this, I’m not sure I’m really addressing sistermagpie’s point, but I think I’m getting at something. Is this why people intentionally keep the things they love as hobbies? Or from a completely different perspective, is this rejection of critical analysis, and the desire to maintain a sense of enjoyment responsible for a decline in quality of different media?
In retrospect, I realize this article could be named, “How I can steer any discussion to manga.” Heh.