Saturday, July 5, 2008

Why Literature?

I think I might have reached a point of crisis. After devoting years of my life to the study of literature I sit here and ask myself, "Why study literature?" Or more specifically, how does fiction enrich my life?

I haven't been reading many novels lately and I haven't taken an English class in around 3 years and now I'm doing both for the month of July. And after starting into the novels, I really have to wonder if we're all deluding ourselves into thinking studying/reading novels is worthwhile.

Now, I know the arguments and I stilly have high regard for my degree. I believe Arts degrees teach you to think, analyze and process information rather than just learning a specific skill set. There was a study back that of the CEO's of major corporations, 70% (or thereabouts) had graduated with an Arts degree. For those of you who think your engineering degree or your bio-physio-chemical-arrangement degree is so much better - I think not.

And yet, when I look at the world around me I wonder how novels help it. The economic chaos, the cultural abysses, the rampant poverty, the lack of critical thinking... For all the Oprah's Book Club members, it's not doing anything to change this. Novels aren't true, they're not real - so how do they apply to life?

I know the arguments for how they are art and how studying them is a sign of our moral and cultural superiority, how art enriches our lives, etc... To this I wonder, why am I so concerened with enriching my life when others lack basic essentials such as clean water or food? I believe art in all forms (painting, music, writing, etc...) is a great personal release mechanism and a vehicle for expressing emotions, but why should it become anything more than a personal endeavor?

I don't know. I can't say I am definitively convinced in any direction yet, but this is just something I am pondering and that I am sure my English professor will call me task on (I've already told him I am a skeptic...) Anybody out there have any suggestions to add? Anybody want to play my devil's advocate? Or answer the question, "How does literature affect world poverty?" Anybody?


Michelle said...

Well, lets see. Some fiction, especially historical fiction, can bring awareness to certain eras or certain events in history that one may not have known about. The first step to change is awareness. About fluffy fiction, I don't know. I tend to read more non-fiction myself.

Eric said...

I can see fiction as a different way of presenting a message, but that means all literature must be didactic and it certainly isnt that way. Some stories are told for the sake of crafting a story.

Actually one novel I really enjoy is the Poisonwood Bible and it's a sort of historical fiction.