Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forget 'litrechoor,' just dive in

“Nowadays the academic study of literature has almost nothing to do with the living, breathing world outside. The further along you go in the degree ladder, and the more rarified a college you attend, the less literary studies relates to the world of the reader. The academic study of literature nowadays isn't, by and large, about how literature can help students come to terms with love, and life, and death, and mistakes, and victories, and pettiness, and nobility of spirit, and the million other things that make us human and fill our lives. It's, well, academic, about syllabi and hiring decisions, how works relate to each other, and how the author is oppressing whomever through the work. The literary critic Gerald Graff famously told us to 'teach the conflicts': We and our squabbles are what it's all about. That's how we made a discipline, after all...

“All this is harming our students. Reading literature can change their lives--and ours. The thing is, we don't quite understand how this process works--nor will we ever understand. Certainly we can't predict it past a certain point. That's why reading literature can't be a discipline. I, a straight white American male, can see myself in a black character or a female one, understand a point made by a dead Russian or a living Albanian, meditate on an abstract point made by an anonymous author. But that equally means that an X reader (say, black, gay, Albanian) need not read an X author (or character?) to get something from a work. Reading literature doesn't require us to check our list of identifying adjectives to see if we'll understand. Instead, we just have to dive in. Maybe we'll sink, maybe we'll swim. Nobody can tell beforehand. That's the beauty of books.”

-- Bruce Fleming, “Leaving Literature Behind”

PLUS: 1) The 100 Notable Books of 2008, according to the NYTimes. 2) George Packer ponders the great mystery of the great writer V.S. Naipaul: “How can a writer who is monstrously inhumane to the people closest to him endow his characters with such humanity?” 3) You might want to revive this--Meme: Page 123

1 comment:

Brian said...

Great entry.

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