Nitty Gritty: On the Joys of Detail

I’ve just started writing my first analytical chapter on Poppy Z. Brite’s novel Lost Souls. After a lot of theoretical groundwork I’m relieved to get down to what my project is really about: books. Much of my chapter will consist of literary analysis and close reading, so I’m currently working my way through the novel once more, looking for clues. It feels like an enormous puzzle and it’s very exciting.

I’ve always been passionate about what I like to call the “nitty gritty” of literary analysis. Often the most significant facts are in the details. Close reading, where you pull apart a text until you’ve looked at every word and every letter, is a lot of work but very rewarding. I can spend hours thinking about just a few sentences. Of course this may make one feel a bit isolated eventually, but as long as you remain aware of the bigger picture the analysis is supposed to fit into everything will eventually get together and lead to a (hopefully) wonderful interpretation.

One of Lost Souls‘ characters drives a rusty Lincoln Continental. I don’t know much about cars, so the first thing I did was Google the name. It turned out the Lincoln is a large, typically American car which has transformed considerably since it was first made. I called my dad, who knows everything there is to know about cars, to ask whether he knew more about this chrome monster. He did not, it turned out. But he immediately started looking for information. A few days later he called me back, excited, to let me know he’d just seen an episode of Pawn Stars. The show featured a Lincoln Continental, a stretched one no less. Due to rights I can’t watch the exact fragment so I’m looking for a way to access the episode. Bit by bit, however, I’m beginning to understand how the car functions within the novel and how it reflects the psyche of its owner.

My chapter isn’t about cars. But all put together details like this one help me to see the bigger picture. For the same reason I’ve been reading on pus and Chartreuse (because the colour green features a lot in the story), on the purity movement (because of the novel’s focus on whiteness and innocence) and Twinkies (for the vampires in the story are obsessed with them). It is this kind of groundwork which makes literary analysis so much fun. Particularly when help does not come from academics but from “normal” people, like my dad. Though he’s anything but normal. But more on that another time.

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