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Literature as Knowledge for Living Essay

According to Vera M. Kutzinski in his introduction, Ottmar Ette was sent to the east of Germany after the reunification of Germany to strengthen academic institutions. There, universities were going to receive the so-called “Initiative for Excellence”, which would make German universities more competitive. But, when it came to application, a little percentage of humanities institutions were selected, because the focus was actually on science and technology.

This fact was what fueled Ette to take a turn on his work and started to work on not trying to convince why literary studies were better or worth more attention or research, but to make skeptical see why society cannot do without literary studies. Ette’s official work on this matter is titled Lendemains, where he focuses on literary studies as something that society needs to survive and the relations established between human beings in literary terms. Below is presented a short review on his evaluation on this matter.

Ette argues that literature and language do not seem to deal with language about life any longer. Instead, scientific and technological academic fields have taken over. So what has to be done for the humanities to deal with life again would be, according to him, reorientating the idea of life, which should be based on making society see how the humanities can improve how human beings live with one another, and this should be done together with the biosciences, creating an easily understandable language which allowed scientific and literary discourses to work together as equals.

Ette also discusses how biotechnology and natural-scientific fields of study have become the “sciences of life” because it has been socially accepted, since their subjects of study have to do with life. And also how literary scholars do not pay attention to the humanities losing ground on this respect. So, according to the author, the concept of life should be changed from a bio-chemical, biophysical, and biotechnological and medical, to a

cultural-literature-oriented one, as other scholars also maintained before (Leo Spitzer and his ideal of literature being the science that seeks to comprehend the human being to the extent to which he expresses himself in words and linguistic creations). Then, the author introduces the concept knowledge for living as the kind of knowledge inherent to literature, this is, literature having knowledge about or of life. But then, it comes the following question: how to acquire this knowledge for living?

This could be answered (according also to Wolfgang Iser’s work) by the act of reading, this is: reading fictional literary pieces and having experiences through it that make the reader gain a kind of knowledge that he/she would not experience in their own life otherwise. This introduces the concepts of intratextuallity (the knowledge of living that characters of novels possess) and extratextuallity (the ways of acquiring certain cultural and sociohistorical knowledge for living), both of which influence the reader culturally, in their behavior, their life, etc.

depending on what they read. These two dimensions of the knowledge for living constitute, at the same time, the knowledge for living together, which is acquired by the readers through literature as the conditions for people to live together which have been shaped all throughout history. In these terms, the author mentions Roland Basthers’ work Comment vivre ensemble, and how literary analysis could connect literature and life. This is, for example, how to live (in the novel), how certain people have lived (in biography), etc.

In addition, these knowledges should take into account different contexts and cultures, gender and social differences, in order to be universal and valid. The conclusion of the author is that the humanities first need to realize the potential that they possess concerning knowledge for living which, in conjunction with the natural and social sciences, would give new perspectives for the exploration of art and literature as knowledge for living.


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