The defense of literature

Does literature need to be rehabilitated amongst us young folks? My colleague at the Daily Cardinal Alex Kuskowski thinks so. Ms. Kuskowski is of the opinion that any reading is better than no reading, and thus she prescribes a few texts that she thinks even the least literary kids on campus can lose themselves in; her recommendations include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (And So Can You).

Full disclosure: I’m writing this post partly because I’m fairly certain that Alex, whom I’ve never personally met, is sitting just adjacent to me in a classroom at Ingraham Hall right this very second. (Hooray for anonymity.) Nevertheless, the literariness of today’s non-lit major is worth considering. One thing that should be taken into account is the sheer mountain of reading for school that so many of us find ourselves scaling on a nightly basis. While it makes perfect sense to me that reading a chapter of a good novel right before bed can both tire me out and plant the seeds for some pretty interesting dreams, I also understand why that particular method of chilling out isn’t necessarily going to jive with everyone.

But I wonder if her argument doesn’t implicitly construct literature as being a higher pursuit than, say, cinema or music, or even something as ostensibly mindless as video games. I’ll never be mistaken for a player of video games, but even I have to admire the structural sophistication, the aesthetic bombast and the quick thinking that many video games represent; that said, I remain disgracefully poor at playing them. And I don’t think there’s any question that playing a video game can be just as engaging or immersive an experience as is reading a complex novel, albeit in a radically different way.

I don’t think Alex is arguing, at least not explicitly, that literature is the highest of arts or that literature is the art with the most potential to resonate with our generation. Actually, it just kind of seems as though she’d like to overhear and participate in more conversations about literature outside the stifling, soundproof walls of the university.

While I sympathize with her literaphilia and with her desire to see more kids walking down State St. with a novel tucked under their arm, I think what we’re seeing today isn’t so much a lack of literariness as it is a lack of reflectiveness: most people who play video games don’t seem to appreciate the artfulness of the game they’re playing, just as most people who consume contemporary commercial cinema perceive movies as being entertainment rather than as being art.

Spreading the love of literature needs to be preceded by a certain shift in consciousness; but can such a shift be achieved by anything short of a seismic shock?

Alright, I really ought to start paying attention to this lecture.

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One Response to “The defense of literature”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Insightful post, Dan. I for one enjoyed reading it.

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