3M: Why do we study literature?

My dear  students,

I’m going to introduce our course on literature by asking you: Why do we study literature? Which is closely linked to the question What is literature? Why don’t we study the telephone directory? I guess you’ve dealt with literary texts for years now but every time I ask my students the above question I see, from their reactions, that somehow it comes as unexpected and it puzzles them. What is our teacher talking about? Of course we study Shakespeare and not the telephone directory but … WHY?

Well, I’m pasting here and on the walls some definitions of Literature and I would like you to choose ONE that suits you & you like best.

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  1. WE STUDY LITERATURE BECAUSE IT OFFERS TRUTH, BEAUTY, VALUE, EXCITEMENT, ORDER, FUSION, RESONANCE AND PLEASURE. (J.Keats romantic poet)
  2. WE READ FICTION NOT JUST FOR THE STORY BUT TO ENLARGE OUR KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD. ( David Lodge)
  3. The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive (prosperare) in a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.   Thomas Moore
  4. Literature is the exploitation (sfruttamento) of words (…) Music and literature have a great deal in common: they both use the temporal material of sounds” A. Burgess author of A Clockwork Orange
  5. If a nation’s LITERATURE declines, the nation atrophies and decays.
  6. Great Literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. Ezra Pound 1885-1972, American Poet, Critic
  7.  No two people read the same book. Edmund Wilson 1895-1972
  8. Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart  Salman Rushdie  (Indian born British Writer, b.1947)
  9.  Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become C.S. Lewis  (British Scholar and Novelist. 1898-1963)
  10.  What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote E. M. Forster  (English Novelist and Essayist, 1879-1970)
  11.  Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but moulds (modella) it to its purpose. Oscar Wilde  (Irish Poet, Novelist, Dramatist and Critic, 1854-1900)
  12.  The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect (colpire) your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish. Robert Louis Stevenson
  13.  So you may ask what is the use of studying the world of imagination where anything is possible and anything can be assumed (immaginato), where there are no rights or wrongs and all arguments are equally good. One of the most obvious uses, I think, is the encouragement of tolerance. Northrop Frye, The Educated imagination.

Here’s a video I found you may like, created  by a student like you.

Now look at the following lines of a poem we’ll read in class without telling you who wrote it and when.

“ Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more; it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

  1. Who do you think is the writer? A contemporary poet? A poet from the past? A young man/woman or a mature one. Why?
  2. Does it communicate a universal truth to you?
  3. Can you consider it literature?

Like Dante who said “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,ché la diritta via era smarrita. (When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,I found myself within a shadowed forest,for I had lost the path that does not stray. Canto I, lines 1-3) couldn’t he just write When I was 35? Am I confusing you? I guess so because even today there’s a huge debate on what literature is. Since it is very difficult to define what literature is, critics speak of LITERARINESS: deviation from conventional daily language.

  • Daily language: life is not worth living. Literary language: Shakespeare’s.
  • Daily language “when I was 35”. Literary :”nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita.”

Meaning is conveyed through Sounds and often has to be inferred.

That’s why you may sometimes  find it difficult to understand and decode it. Nevertheless the SOUND of poetry, like the music of a song, helps you grasp some meaning. Even if you don’t understand French I’m sure you will “feel” the atmosphere and the general tone of the following line.

Les sanglots long des violons de l’automme blessent mon coeur d’un languer monoton”    (P. Verlaine)

The same happens in music. For instance in rap music or ballads.

So, to cut the long story short, in literature

WHAT IS BEING SAID IS BOUND UP VERY CLOSELY  TO

HOW/THE WAY IT IS SAID.

That’s why we’re going to study literature:

  • to master and understand the CODES of literariness;

  • to appreciate literary texts;  🙂

  • to be able to give your personal response; (in a creative way!)

  •  to acquire a certain knowledge of the social & historical context of some authors & be able to compare them to the Italian literature.

“So you may ask what is the use of studying the world of imagination where anything is possible and anything can be assumed, where there are no rights or wrongs and all arguments are equally good. One of the most obviuos uses, I think, is the encouragement of tolerance. “Northrop Frye, The Educated imagination.

Last but not least: why do you want to study literature and what are your expectations for our course on Literature in English? Leave your comment.

41 thoughts on “3M: Why do we study literature?

  1. I want to study literature because I think it’s helpful for our mind to know and understand the different prospects, of seeing the world and the things or the feelings that more affect our life, of acculturated people from different areas.
    Moreover poetry is different from all the other arts that more usually we see in our life like music.
    So with our course of english literature I hope to deepen my knowledge on different topics and be able to understand better what poets really want to told us.

  2. I choose a type of school that allows me to study Literature in a very deep way because I really love it. Literature, I think is, the best way to discover the world and what people think. A really good way to express your knowledge, learn, a wonderful way of entertainment, a way to see a different world and open your mind and make you think about what surrounds you. Literature books, for exemple, make you cry, fall in love, laugh…Literature is the thinking of authors like Dickens, Austin, Poe, Joyce, Hemingway, Wilde and Shakespeare. This year I really want to discover the Shakespeare’s world. Shakespeare has always inspired me for his way to see love, death and life in generalso it would be a pleasure for me to study him.

  3. I want to study literature because I’m curious to discover this new ”world” with all its kinds of poetry and authors. They obviously used different types of ways to make people know what they were meaning so I’m sure that there will be some who I’ll really like and others who won’t be my favourites but I would like to make their words mine and to understand new concepts that maybe I had no idea that were possible to be transmitted through simple words. I expect to be involved by the different texts that we’ll read so that I’ll be able to understand which kind of authors they were and why and also what they were feeling by the words they use. Some themes are treated for sure by more of them so It’ll be interesting notice how they meant the same things, too.

  4. I want to study literature because I think it is an interesting subject and thanks to it I can know and learn the poets’ and authors’ point of view and their way of thinking. Literature is something thought provocking or it can be fun, too. It helps you to improve your knowledge about old themes and contemporary too. I think it is a different way of express yourself and this is another reason I’m curious of studiyng it. Literature is a language that we don’t use every day, maybe sometimes difficult to understand. So my expectation for our course of Literature in English is to become enough able to understand and interpret in the right way the main message of a poem fot example, without misunderstand it.

  5. I love reading and finding out new ways to say/explain how I really feel inside.
    Like Giorgia has said, Literature is a different type of art that we don’t usually consider.
    I want to discover more about it and immerse myself in this new world.
    Italian Literature is not that easy, but I like it by the way. I hope I’m going to appreciate English Literature as well, even if I’m aware that the theme is pretty complex.
    Can’t wait to build up my knowledge!

  6. In the literature there is the thought of man, there is its history, there is love, hate, joy… In a poem there are the emotions of a look, a gesture, that through writing become sound and image of life. I like studying literature because it means studying the man in every facet. Without the study of literature, that contains the histor, you can not learn to think and get excited, because without a comparison with different thoughts (ancient or modern), there is no future .

  7. I want to study Literature because I think is a different way to see the life and the world and to open our mind and make it free from all the events that surround us every day. Literature is also a way to discover and acquire more cultural knowledges.
    In my opinion study Literature won’t be so easy but like Beatrice I’m very curious to discover more about it and more about the authors. Studying it could be a way, not only to understand the feelings and the manner of think of the authors but also a way to knowing ourselves

  8. Why do I want to study literature? For many reasons. Absolutely because when you study literature an entire world opens in front of you and it’s exciting knowing a little part of this wonderful thing, naturally nothing is easy particularly studying literature and you need passion and curiosity for understanding it.
    I think literature helps you to find new sides of yourself, the character, and also it sees the life in others ways. You can know how older authors fell their feelings in different ways to contemporary authors.
    My expectations for this course are all of these, I want to learn, know and appreciate this “world”.

  9. I think that literature is the best way to improve our culture. It helps you to open your mind, to have a deep education, to be well informed about the culture of the past and the present. And it’s wonderful because it’s very useful to express in the best way your feelings and to understand life from lots points of view. Points of view of all the nationalities, if you are really interested. And that’s why I’ve chosen a linguistic high school, to learn how the people of the past thought about literature in life, how they expressed their ideas with it. And I’m so curious to discover the world of english literature, most of all I love english…

    • Wow Federica I really,really agree with you!I really like what you wrote!!!

  10. I’d like to study literature because i want to add a lot of new words in my personal english dictionary. I want to know the culture of the past, and the different ways of thinking of those times. I like literature because each writer, expressing through their characters, can teach me something. If I didn’t read, I wouldn’t become the person now i am. Books open your mind, and this is way i’d like to study different writers and make connection and find differences between their way of thinking.

  11. I want to study literature because sometimes texts gives me interesting different points of view and make me think about things that normally I wouldn’t think; during the cours is possible that I’ll get bored, but I think I’ll find it stimulating.

  12. I think that studying literature is really useful because it helps to expand your mind and to develop the knowledge. I like literature and I want to study it to learn about the different views of the world that the poets have in the different period of their life, because sometimes when we read we can find ourselves inside the thoughts of the writer who can be in the our same situation.
    I can’t wait to star studying literature and some English poets like Oscar Wilde or William Shakespeare that are very important and famous writers.
    I think that literature is this: the desire to discover the world from another perspective.

  13. I study literature because I believe there is power in stories. Analysing literature and writing about it is an opportunity to express our points of view and our opinion, which in my belief is an important thing.
    Studying literature helps us learn about the world around us; it takes us to new places and different time periods.
    By studying literature we also discover ourselves. We see ourselves and our lives reflected in characters and this is awesome.
    Once we have broken the barriers that make studying literature seem dauntingly or boring, we find that literary works can be entertaining, beautiful and funny.

  14. Why I want to study literature? I find very useful to know where our origins come from and it’s also good learning how english language has changed in years till now.Some people left us important documents on which is told a new dimension of the world’s vision.
    Poets are someone who helps you to see things with a different eye and they brought humanity to an high level.
    Trying to understand what they teach us it’s what I want to do in this course and I hope to be able in the future to use what I’m going to learn.

    • I agree with you alessia that poets can make you see the things with a different eye!!!!

    • For sure you’ll use that, non in a practical way , unless it becomes your job, but to become a better person

  15. I want to study literature because is culture and I think that could be interesting mind to study the feels and the way to think of poets ….the literature opens your mind to the world and it improves capacity of thought.

  16. In recent years I’ve often asked myself : Why we study literature ? , and I’ve also realized that the most frequent anwser to this question is :- ” Open your mind”.
    In this regard , I think the concept of this application is so board that so there isn’t a right or wrong answer.
    In a sanse I believe that studying literature on school is a good way to get a culture , but not only, in my opinion the literature is wonderful, as are personal tastes and I often dislike authors , I acknowledge that all of them are important .
    I hope it may one day I able to find freedom of expression and to be who I am !

  17. I want to study literature because i want to understand how they thought the contemporany and modern poets, and i want to understand their vision of the world with their text and i also to learn things about the old and new literature.
    My expectations from this course is to be able to understand the meanings of famous quotes and phrases.

  18. I’m glad to study literature because in my opinion it is one of the fundamental things of every country’s culture.
    Literature actually explain feelings in ways that are truly different from the ones we use. It let you see how the language has changed through history. It makes you understand things you haven’t maybe realized before, and it’s amazing to me how it can open your eyes. It’s a sort of “mind-trip” that you have while reading, as a tiny journey that allows you to feel like you are living in that epoque, you are being a part of what’s written.
    I’ve chosen this quotation to explain my feelings about literature: “If a nation’s LITERATURE declines, the nation atrophies and decays.”. We need to communicate and, as a language student, is one of my interests to know HOW words were said once and what happened until now, by the written and spoken side. Also, I can understand how people lived and what were their thoughts. Literature depicts it to me.
    “She” is a part of us, without “her” we wouldn’t be the same. Literature is the future written in the past.

  19. I think that studying literature is very interesting because you can learn how other people think about world and life.
    Another espect of literature and poems is that you can write anything you want beacuse there isn’t something right or something wrong, infact anyone can interpret what he reads in his own way and I really like this because you don’t feel judge. To conclude I say that literature helps you to escape from reality.

    • Not completely “anything you want” any interpretation is right as far as it’s supported by reasoning and given reasons for 😉

  20. This year we start studying English literature and I’m sure that I want to do it until the end.
    I really want to study literature because in it I always find different way of thinking about one thing,sometimes changing completely his normal use,describing it with uncommon and abnormal words for an other that maybe is common and trivial.This isn’t the only one answer that I can give of this question I want study this subject also because a lot of time I can find myself on what poetries or oder writers wrote or simply said.
    From our course on English literature I expect to learn more different ways of thinking and saying and like Priscilla said I want also understand the meanings of the famous quotes and phrases so…let’s do it together,with optimism and happiness

  21. I want to study literature to develop my point of view. Beginning to be interested in literature, whether is contemporary or antique, will give me a vision and later an opinion of what is or was the world like for other people. Knowing about what people that aren’t you think is a valuable enrichment of yourself, because it makes you reflect about how things from your point of view are different or not.
    Another reason is that I adore reading, but I usually read modern novels. So I think that ranging in other types of writing is an admirable way to learn about the world and improve English and its culture.

    • It’s great to know that there are students who love reading. And I feel grateful to have you in my class

  22. I’d really love to study literature because of my curiosity! I’ve always wanted to study something like Shakespeare or Wilde. I think our goal in life is about experience all of its facets, and Literature is one of them. How could you pretend every single huge poet or writer didn’t exist? If we like it or not that i a big part of our past and that is what makes us be who we are now. This is just the reason why I want to study Literature.

  23. I want to study literature because I think it opens our minds, makes us understand some things that maybe we would have never consider and it tryes to explain different feelings/emotions and particular situations.
    It reflects real life without copying it and also gives you a better vision of the world and its components.
    My expectations are:
    Involving us to read more because I have to say the truth about reading literature, we read very few books and in general if we read them we do it in a superficially way..
    I would like also to read together some parts of some novels that we can choose together! Just to understand different styles and have an idea of differences between genre and genre.

  24. I want to study literature to know, to understand and even to appreciate more and deeper the culture and the important things of our lives. I think that poets write and wrote to affect a person as they wish, like I read in the quote of Robert Louis Stevenson.
    Honestly until now, I didn’t like so much literature because in Italian we spoke above all about the historical aspect of it. But like Serena, I hope that literature will help me to find new sides of myself, that it can feel me true emotions just reading it.
    About literature in English I’m a bit scared, because literature is already a complex subject and in a foreign language it will be more difficult. But I’m positive and I think I will like it.

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