LEARNING FROM LITERATURE: WHAT?
“A great work of art may provide us the opportunity to feel more profoundly and more generously, to perceive more fully the implications of experience, than the constricted and fragmentary conditions of life permit.” –Louise M. Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration (Noble, 1968)
. . .
Underlinings and Notes from A Literary Education by Joseph Epstein (Axios, 2014)
“Apart from those people trained as professional scholars or scientists, we are all finally autodidacts [self-taughts[, making our way on our own as best we can, with our real teachers being the books we happen to read.”
“…the best that any university can do is point its students in the right direction: let them know what the intellectual possibilities are and give them a taste of the best that has been thought and written in the past.”
“…literature, largely though not exclusively imaginative literature, provides the best education for a man or woman in a free society.”
“While novelists may have a plenitude of ideas, or deal with complex ideas in their work, it is rarely their ideas that are the most compelling things about their work.”
“A literary education establishes a strong taste for the endless variousness of life; it teaches how astonishing reality is–…”
“…a literary education teaches the limitation of the intellect itself, at least when applied to the great questions, problems, issues, and mysteries of life.”
“A literary education teaches that human nature is best, if always incompletely, understood through the examination of individual cases [and] those cases that…prove no rule–the unique human personality.”
“… [I]t provides an enhanced appreciation of the mysteries and complexities of life that reinforce the inestimable value of human liberty…”
. . .
Epstein quoting Marcel Proust: “Our intellect is not the most subtle, the most powerful, the most appropriate instrument for revealing truth. It is life that, little by little, example by example, permits us to see that what is most important to our heart, or to our mind, is learned not by reasoning, but through other agencies. Then it is that the intellect, observing their superiority, abdicates its control to them upon reasoned grounds and agrees to become their collaborator and lackey.”
I’ve read just about everything Joseph Epstein has written. To me, he’s one of best essayists writing today. He always writes in interesting ways about fascinating subjects and intriguing books.
How can we teachers ever deny such good information–and refuse to share with our students? How is it that some are so bored or hate literature? Yet some become English majors despite what we might do to them? Amazing.