Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hegemony and Harry Potter

It may seem that writer's of some texts want their meaning to be obvious. Why would anyone want their reader to stare at their work for hours without getting what we wanted them to get? Writing is always done with a purpose (my purpose today is to share my thoughts on this particular topic.) Though I believe all writers have a message to get across, writers want their reader to think. Even if a writer had a singular message in mind, the reader cannot read a text in a hegemonic way. This means that whatever code that exists within a text cannot be interpreted in a way that seems 'natural' or 'transparent'. (Chandler). A piece of advice that I take from Ian Reilly for this case is if it seems obvious, take it out. As opposed to a hegemonic reading, it is most often a 'negotiated' reading (Chandler). We shape our understanding of a text on our own understanding and experiences.

Let's take Harry Potter for example. Some people might say Harry Potter is a masterpiece of literature. Others might say Harry Potter is a stupid children's book that is a waste of time. For me, Harry Potter was a character I grew up with; as the books came out I was roughly the characters' ages, so as I read of them experiencing familiar pangs of adolescence against a magical backdrop I felt somewhat comforted. For yet others, it is the first book they ever read, and inspired in them a love of reading. This is the same text, but with many interpretations. "But there always remains, around the final meaning, a halo of virtualities where other possible meanings are floating: the meaning can almost always be interpreted." (Barthes, 133)

But why do I like Harry Potter so much? More importantly, why has Harry Potter become, in my opinion, the biggest phenomenon of literature in a generation? There is one important reason that I believe texts like Harry Potter can't be read where "the reader fully shares the text's code and accepts and reproduces the preferred reading." (Chandler) This is because everyone can identify with something. When reading Harry Potter, despite all its magical impossibilities, there is a degree of realism that allow you to see yourself in the story. As closure is possible in images because we observe the parts but perceive the whole (McCloud, 63), it is also possible through literature. The characters and events are described in such a way that you aren't excluded from the story, but you can see yourself in it.

Another thing Harry Potter has done is inspire a generation of creators. Ian scratched the surface of the surface of this phenomenon of creation when he mentioned 13 year old girls creating Harry Potter stories. There are at least 500 000 Harry Potter stories in existence on the world wide web (and that's my own conservative estimate), and these stories were written by many different kinds of people. I have even written a couple, (not when I was a 13 year old girl), and from these stories, everyone has gotten something different from this one text. There are also websites dedicated to Harry Potter inspired art, and bands such as Harry and the Potters or Draco and the Malfoys who create Harry Potter themed music.

The fact that the line between reader and writer, creator and consumer, has all but disappeared leads me to believe that hegemony when reading a text is nearly impossible. You just need to look at the variety of works available, and you can see how vastly differently people read the codes within any given text. As someone who is both a creator and consumer of texts, this interpretation is the best part.

All meanings, we know, depend on the key of interpretation.” - George Eliot

Works Cited

Chandler, Daniel. "Semiotics for Beginners : Encoding/Decoding." 19 Feb 2001 02 Oct 2008 .

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 1st. New York, USA: HarperPerennial, 1994

1 comment:

zoe said...

i love your writing. i'm on a research about one of Rowling's series novel and this article has helped me to get confident continuing my research. thanks for an inspirational opinion. :)