English Student Mode- Why Overanalysing Can Be Fun

If there’s one skill you learn in an English class, from the first book you read in primary school to the novel after novel you read a week at uni, it’s how to overanalyse. You’re probably familiar with the process – close reading every word and ‘reading between the lines’ to try and uncover the author’s meaning from his choice of colour or description of lighting, and then linking it to a vaguely similar word used 50 pages earlier. At times it definitely seems like a futile and ridiculous practise, and this oft used meme comes to mind:

Let’s call this careful training ‘English Student Mode’. Everyone is taught it, most people hate it, and no one actual uses it when reading a text for entertainment. Except here’s the secret: it’s actually a lot of fun, you just need to be able to turn it on and off at will.

As someone who spends a lot of time at the theatre, constantly overanalysing every lyric of every song and every directorial blocking decision would be quite frankly exhausting, and I definitely turn off English Student Mode to actually enjoy a show. But when I recently had to write about a handful of shows for an essay, I got the chance to analyse them just like we were all taught in primary school (although hopefully with more nuance).

It’s probably doubtful any of the conclusions I came to were in the mind of the author when he wrote the shows. I found musical similarities that were probably accidents, conflated concepts of author/actor/historical figure, and suggested results of authorial choices that no one else who wasn’t in English Student Mode would ever see. Barthes would be so proud.

The experience of almost purposely overanalysing something I love made me appreciate it more, rather than destroy it in my mind as I’d worried. Because whether or not the author meant it, those details are there and they’re incredibly interesting and do have academic ramifications. So maybe turn on English Student Mode every now and then, just to see if there’s anything to uncover (or create…) between the lines of the things you love. Just don’t forget to turn it off afterwards.