Every time I teach a college literature class, I have to budget time in the syllabus to help my students unlearn the way they learned to read in high school. Atwood does a great job explaining the role a reader plays in constructing the meanings they find in a literary text.
It’s all the fault of how we were taught in high school, in which the teacher had the benefit of the finished book and would draw a diagram on the blackboard. It gives you the idea that the writer always had that diagram and was just translating it into this unnecessary amount of language. The inference is: What was the poet trying to say? Poor lamb, he couldn’t just blurt it out. He had to fancy it all up. He really had a speaking problem…. I’m not a Platonist. I don’t think the meaning exists somewhere up here and then is translated down into all this verbiage. I believe the meaning emerges out of the language and that the reader is the musician of the text. —Quartz