I have taken today, which was a beautiful day, off and dedicated it to doing very little beyond reading blogs. Clarissa’s department is being turned from Foreign Languages and Literatures to World Languages and Cultures. Why do you think people are so anti-literary?
I, too, dislike it but I have an advantage over some people because I made a well considered decision to study it and then acquired a certain taste for it, and also because I have been defending this decision to scientists and engineers since freshman year, in increasingly sophisticated ways. I even started reading theory early on for purposes of explaining what I was doing to those who wondered.
The students say they want to learn the language, not study literature, but back when I just wanted to learn languages I thought studying the subtleties of literary texts were part of that so I did not draw the distinction between “language” and “literature” they do.
Clarissa’s department wants to eliminate literature in favor of language and culture, but I would have said literature is both. I do find it strange that a department would vote to excise from its name the one subject most of its members are professionally qualified to teach.
My exchange student and her friends, the people from the land of Bernat de Ventadorn and who speak like him, consider literature to be something for people who like to read whereas I would consider it something for people interested in a language or a place, or who would like to hear a different voice.
Many students do not like literature because they have studied it in classes where it is a code that only the professor can decipher. In my classes it is a complex text we are all learning to read in interesting ways we can also justify and defend; this frustrates some students, who just want to “know the answer,” and others, who like to read and want to identify with characters or emote with the text.
My student the rocker likes literature because it works with rhythm and sound. Double majors like my classes because in them the study of literature is “more like a science” and they, unlike some pure literature majors, enjoy this.
So far it is a question of teaching, really: literature is artistically, emotionally, or scientifically interesting, or it displaces useful, interesting, dynamic studies of language and culture with the dull reading of tedious tomes whose meaning one must guess — or rather, whose meaning to the professor one must guess. With literature one must practice interpretive skills, but interpretations should be logical and based on demonstrable facts about the text and its contexts.
So one is using intuition and wisdom but not simply presenting random reactions (e.g. inaccurate translations), and the conjugation of precision and intuition is difficult to grasp. That is why science, too, is considered difficult, but science is forgiven for difficulty whereas we are not.
Then there is the question of being “against” “literature”. I believe I understand Beverly’s book, which is clearly written. Yet I have never been convinced it was not actually a response to questions I do not really have, such as whether or not the study of literature is “relevant,” whether literature is part of an elite discourse and if so, whether that makes it a force of reaction, and things like this … although perhaps I underestimate Beverly.
I am worried about this, slightly, as regards my book project now that I am writing something political. Am I treating everything as some sort of state discourse and if so to what extent am I being reductive? Am I inadvertently participating in the rage against literature?