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.
- WE STUDY LITERATURE BECAUSE IT OFFERS TRUTH, BEAUTY, VALUE, EXCITEMENT, ORDER, FUSION, RESONANCE AND PLEASURE. (J.Keats romantic poet)
- WE READ FICTION NOT JUST FOR THE STORY BUT TO ENLARGE OUR KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD. ( David Lodge)
- 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
- 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
- If a nation’s LITERATURE declines, the nation atrophies and decays.
- Great Literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. Ezra Pound 1885-1972, American Poet, Critic
- No two people read the same book. Edmund Wilson 1895-1972
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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
- 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,
- Who do you think is the writer? A contemporary poet? A poet from the past? A young man/woman or a mature one. Why?
- Does it communicate a universal truth to you?
- 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.