Why literature? Because it’s good for you and tastes better than brussel sprouts.
~Use THIS, which is glorious, to teach narrative, interpretation, personification, metaphor, whatever. Or just watch it. It’ll be a highlight of your day. Promise;
~Consider irony. Don is doing it. And in response to the article that prompted his reflections, many others did too, though they came to different conclusions about the merit of the original piece (as here and here);
~Check out this article on the top Literary Heroines of 2012 (with links to other such lists) or this list of great books from 2012 (Hologram for a King was entrancing; I read it in two sittings only because I wanted to slow the experience down a bit to enjoy it longer. Really, really great.) or this longer one (with poetry!);
~Think about translation and how it affects what you read (you read stuff in translation, right? RIGHT?)
~Read up on the various perspectives and associated controversies surrounding the latest Nobel Prize Laureate, Mo Yan (whose book, for the record, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out was one I enjoyed greatly) and the difficult intersections of politics, language, and art;
~Let Poetry make you weird;
~Have you read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet? I loved it when I was in college. I’ve been a little fearful to go back to it, lest it disappoint, and it hasn’t come up since, except in my own mind when Alexandria is mentioned. It was in those books that I first found C.P. Cavafy, whose work I love. And someday, I hope to visit. In the meantime, I was happy to find this;
~Learn about Wayne Booth’s helpful distinctions of narrator, implied author, and actual author (or at least the implied author part) as applied to political punditry. Or, learn about Wayne Booth. He was awesome;
~Read about epigraphs and their history, one way that books talk to each other, as Umberto Eco might put it.
~Did you know “Toni Morrison” is a pen name? Or that she did this with Rokia Traore (who put on one of the most amazing live music experiences I’ve ever had–you should check her out if and when she comes back to town) I didn’t, until I read this;
~Imagine life as an editor. Nothing but commas everywhere. And errors;
~Read this absorbing essay about Literature and Digital Humanities. A bit of it:
At the advent of print, the humanities emerged, under the aegis of Erasmus and others, to negotiate the spread of the classical tradition out of the monasteries into private hands. Today, with the advent of the Internet, Google’s self-described project is to make the world’s information “universally accessible and useful.” Academia could have done what humanists have done throughout history and tried to add to Google’s mandate: make the texts legible and available. They could have tried to bring out the contemporary relevance that only historical context, knowledge of literary tradition, and scholarly standards can provide. But this ancient task was anathema, for the simple reason that it would have involved honest work. Much easier to remain in the safe irrelevance of mass publication in the old mode, what Kingsley Amis called “the pseudo-light it threw on non-problems.” For at least 50 years, humanities departments have been in the business of creating problems rather than solving them.
All in all, it’s fair to say that the conversion of literature into data could not have gone much worse, which does not bode well for the second, oncoming phase, where we decide what to do with the literary data we now have…
But the really great part of the essay (I think) comes in the second half when the author discusses literature as “resistance to data.” Which is another reason to love Lit.
~Read a difficult book; or, better (?) read about other people’s picks for the ten most difficult books;
~Check out these two interviews with Junot Diaz (here and here)–both great;
~Or find some other author talking about her or his book;
~Read this letter from Steinbeck to his editor about books and reading and audiences and life;
~Consider what should (and should not) be “required reading” or think about re-reading;
~Or read about a snob’s opinion of Stephen King’s work;
~Have you read any lit crit lately? Are you wondering what Terry Eagleton is up to? Or wondered why contemporary lit is “gutless” (as compared to the work of Rabindranath Tagore–do you know Tagore? You should. Interesting dude.)? Anyway, not to fear–postmodernism is dead. Unless it isn’t;
~Finally, to bring it around, you might (re)-consider the effects of literature and its limits:
When we’re practiced in sympathy it is easier for us to notice “what is not seen.” When we have tried, over and over again, to put ourselves into others’ places and to see the world from where they are standing, we’re better people, living in a more civil world. Because we’ve read Alice Adams, we might not go over the top trying to impress people the next time we’re under great social pressure and we might not be so harsh on those who do. Because our children have read, and have had read to them, stories that help them think about the perils of greed, or the importance of kindness, or the dangers of drinking from bottles marked “Drink me,” they will grow up to be more considerate and more careful of themselves and others.
It’s tempting to close with promises about how if we all just read a few more books—better books—support our local arts scene, visit museums, attend concerts, read to our children and make them take piano lessons, our problems will be solved. Surely, a society that’s grounded in civility and sympathy and learned in the humanities would not be plagued with financial irresponsibility and ethical misconduct. Surely it wouldn’t be run by politicians and reported on by journalists who use language that would have shocked Lady Chatterley. Unfortunately people who offer easy answers to complicated questions are usually trying to sell you something.
The humanities can teach us civility and sympathy, but they can’t make us perfect and they can’t fix our problems for us. They can help us be more aware of the “unseen,” but they cannot help us predict unintended consequences. There isn’t a philosophical theory or a novel or a painting or a piece of music in the world that can solve the Middle East or clean up an oil spill or make the economy recover. The best the humanities can do is to remind us that, as Auden put it, “We must love one another or die,” and then show us how to do it.