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Studying Literature Essay

“We all have slumbering realms of sensibility which can be coaxed into wakefulness by books.” [Robertson Davies, A Voice From the Attic: Essays on the Art of Reading 13 (New York: Penguin Books, rev. ed., 1990)]

“[L]iterature is an art, and . . . as an art it is able to enlarge and refine our understanding of life.” [Robertson Davies, Reading and Writing 2-3 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, special ed., 1993) (1992)]

The study of literature “is the place—there is no other in most schools—the place wherein the chief matters of concern are particulars of humanness—individual human feeling, human response, and human time, as these can be known through the written expression (at many literary levels) of men living and dead, and as they can be discovered by student writers seeking through words to name and compose and grasp their own experience.

English [that is, literature] in sum is about my distinctness and the distinctness of other human beings. Its function, like that of some books called ‘great,’ is to strive at once to know the world through art, to know what if anything he uniquely is, and what some brothers uniquely are. The instruments employed are the imagination, the intellect, and texts or events that rouse the former to life . . . .

[T]he goal . . . is to expand the areas of the human world—areas that would not exist but for art—with which individual man can feel solidarity and coextensiveness.” [Benjamin DeMott, Supergrow: Essays and Reports on Imagination in America 143 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1969)]

“It appears to me quite tenable that the function of literature as a generated prize-worthy force is precisely that it does incite humanity to continue living; that it eases the mind of strain, and feeds it, I mean definitely as nutrition of impulse.” [T.S. Eliot, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound 20 (New York: New Directions Book, 1935)]

Literature “returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness.” [Harold Bloom, How to Read and Why 19 (New York: Scribner, 2000)]

“You look for your own story in literature; it’s one of the best mechanisms you have to convince yourself you’re not alone.” [Glenn Schaeffer, founder of the International Institute of Modern Letters, UNLV Magazine]

“Literature, I argue, is the product of a way of reading, of a community agreement about what will count as literature, which leads the members of the community to pay a certain kind of attention and thereby to create literature.” [Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities 97 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980)]

Literature “expands one’s sympathy, it complicates one’s sense of oneself and the world, it humiliates the instrumentally calculating forms of reason so dominant in our culture (by demonstrating their dependence on other forms of thought and express, and the like). It is one of the deepest characteristics of literary texts to throw into question the nature of the language in which they are written, and this necessarily throws into question as well the nature of any language in which they might be talked about or into which they might be translated.”

[James Boyd White, From Expectation to Experience: Essays on Law & Legal Education 55 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999)]. White goes on to observe that “literary teaching” leads us “towards incrementally more complete, but never wholly adequate, understandings of other people and other minds—towards other languages, other ways of thinking and being and imagining the world.

These understandings in turn carry us towards a general understanding both of language and of the mind, one that is literary rather than conceptual in kind and affects our reading not only of ‘literature’ but of all the texts that make up our world.” [Id. at 58].

“Literature lives through language, and so must we . . . .” [Id. at 60].

“What I think literature has most to teach, then, is a way of reading, and reading not only ‘literature’ but all kinds of texts and expressions: a way of focusing our attention on the languages we use, on the relations we establish with them, and on the definition of self and other that is enacted
in every expression.” [Id.]

“Reading is a direct and immediate engagement with language. Discussing what we read intensifies this engagement, giving us an increased sense of authority and self-confidence. As we build language skills, we build life skills. We learn our place within the world of language. In an important sense, by reading and discussing what we read, we all create our own place in the world. We become productive citizens.” [Robert Waxler, The Power of Stories]

“Students are formed by the reading they do, by the views of self and world such reading presents.” [Parker J. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known 19 (New York: Harper & Row, 1983)]

“The study of literature offers many ways to improve literacy: it gives access to language, reading, writing, a shared culture, and one’s own self.” [Jean Trounstine, Why Literature in Prison?]

“The craft of literature: Articulates insights, sentiments in ways that sometimes the rest of us cannot—Gives voice to what is submerged and suppressed (the questions behind the questions)—Defamiliarizes the familiar.” [Johanna Shapiro, Can Poetry Make Better Doctors? [on-line text]

“[L]iterature goes beyond life. It is art; it is an imaginative creation that can tell truths gracefully, subtly through narrative, poetry and the movement of characters on a stage. Any imaginative act suggests possibility, and this is another reason to continue studying literature.” [Florence Dee Boodakian, In Defense of Literature]

“I urge literature upon lawyers and law students to teach how the culture of the law attracts and repels those who enter its province. Novels are profoundly useful tools to study human nature, and I teach these books as a strategy, not a panacea, to counter many of the ills attributed to legal education and lawyering today.” [Ilene Durst, Valuing Women Storytellers: What They Talk About When They Talk About Law, 11 Yale J.L. & Feminism 245
(1999)]


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