Thursday, December 24, 2009

True Story on Subjectivity

This happened during an English class in my undergrad Roorkee years. [Those of you I've met personally in real-life, have almost certainly heard it before.]

English professor asks class which poem was the best ever. I was mildly amused at first; I thought it was a silly question. And then few students began throwing names of poems they knew.

"Rime of the ancient mariner?" asked one.

"No," said the prof.

"The Daffodils?"

"No, that was the second best."

I had to rub my ears. But I think people don't rub their ears in disbelief -- which is why that expression doesn't exist. A more correct reaction involved me wishing for a remote control with a rewind button, just to make sure I was hearing right.

But even that wasn't required, when another student raised his hand.

"Paradise Lost?"

"Yes! That's the best poem ever. Well done. What's your name, boy?"

"XYZ," said the boy [name changed to conceal identity]

"Ah, of course, I know you! I've seen you in quizzes in the LitSec" [Literary Section of our Insti., where we participated in quizzes, debates etc.]

Everything happened in under a minute. Just a few poem names were thrown around, someone answered a question I thought was retarded and unanswerable, and it was all said and done with the straightest faces imaginable. Not a hint of irony in tone.

Maybe, I just don't understand poetry after all. I guess I'm a prose person.

The reason I posted this anecdote has partly got to do with the proliferation of polls all over the internet asking people to vote for the "best of the noughties" in [insert_topic]. I think a lot of these polls attempt to objectify subjective areas. But it is nonetheless human nature to want to associate numerical weights to compare A and B. I'm sure I don't understand a lot of these polls, because I'm not necessarily qualified to run the rule on most of them. But I'll enjoy it still because it's always fun, as long as we don't make it out to be more serious than it's meant to be. [An example is one by Anand Ramachandran of the hilarious Son of Bosey blog, whose video game blog has a poll to decide the game of the decade. I think it would have been more fun had he initially invited nominations and then created a sort of video game league playoffs where a game knocked another one in a head to head fight funnelling up to a grand finale head to head where Assassins Creed II squared off against Modern Warfare 2; again, just an example. Makes it more fun and different IMO.]

Deciding the best thing in an area by consensus isn't always bad, but in the field of poetry, it's extremely retarded. So, dear English professor, no soup for you!
blog comments powered by Disqus