I feel like analysis of works of art came off badly in my childhood. I consumed huge swathes of content – primarily books and video games – with an insatiable hunger, but the only place I was regularly exposed to critical discussion of content was in English lessons. Moreover, the manner in which it was taught left a lot to be desired; to this day, analysis of the deeper themes of a piece of writing often comes across to me as an external entity attempting to imprint their values upon a work – much like a teacher, forced to invoke syllabus-approved interpretations of syllabus-approved texts, might insist on the internal motivations of a long-dead author as if they were gospel, carried down from the mountain on stone tablets to be disseminated amongst the masses, rather than something to be considered on an individual basis.
It’s only as I’ve studied my own writing process in greater depth that I’ve started to break out of this misconception, and see how important it is to ask what a piece of work means to each of us individually. After all, we all bring our own tastes, morals and preconceptions to any story, poem or piece of artwork we consume, and it’s unlikely that any two people are going to have an identical experience. But a well-crafted piece of written analysis can act as a tool to help peel back the layers of a familiar story you thought you understood, revealing new understanding. Even the most out-of-left-field theory of the underlying themes of a piece can garner a fresh perspective, and perhaps new insight.
This whole post was inspired by my discovery of a superb essay, Chaos in the Cosmos: The Play of Contradictions in the Music of Katamari Damacy by Steven B. Reale. Katamari Damacy is one of my favourite games of all time, guaranteed to make me grin like a loon, and its soundtrack is simply a masterpiece. It’s frankly criminal that only Katamari’s inferior sequels ever made it to these shores. Despite the playful tone of Katamari, and the acid-trip surreality at play in both visuals and narrative, Reale paints a darker picture of emotional abuse, of expectant father-figures and absent mothers, of an intricate interplay between game mechanics, sound effects and music to engender a complex series of emotions in the player which I’d never before been aware of. If you’ve played Katamari, Reale’s essay is a must-read; even if you haven’t, you can find the pieces of music easily enough on Youtube.
While I’m on the topic of insightful analysis – even if erring towards the possibly-reading-too-much-into-slight-inconsistencies school of alternative theories – I also wanted to mention Squall’s Dead (contains Final Fantasy VIII spoilers) and this wonderfully dark and twisted Harry Potter theory. Both are great little reads, pulling on threads left dangling in the plots of both tales to bring whole new – quite feasible interpretations of events.