The Teacher’s Explanation about “The Grand Inquisitor”

What I think I wanted to see is whether your default mindset was to listen objectively to what a difficult text says or to filter the details through your own biases and write your thinking about the text before you had listened to it. In other words, did you lay out the details in front of you so you had something to think about, or did you start thinking before you had noticed all the details?

You have to know your own work style in order to tackle difficult texts.

You have to know your own work style in order to tackle difficult texts.

I also wanted to present you with a complex text whose purpose was to deal with a complex issue that was left unresolved. So much of your training as a reader has taught you to try to draw a singular conclusion from a text; in literary analysis, recognizing the elements in tension, the intentional ambiguities, the complexities, is 90% of the job. Okay, that number is BS, but you get my point, I hope.

Layers, layers, layers – yes, there are more purposes behind my assigning of this particular text. You can’t read literature in a vacuum. You need to know stuff – history, philosophy, science, religion – in order to enter the conversation that the author is having within a text. Surely you can’t be expected to know what you haven’t been taught or haven’t yet encountered on your own, but your awareness that there exist for you both “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” will allow you to read with a sense of inquiry and to make a range of connections beyond the personal.

Maybe lastly, I wanted to present you with a text that forced you to ask questions, and perhaps also to establish the level of the discussion that you’ll encounter in this year’s reading. That’s probably all.

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