Why studying 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 some definitions of Literature and I would like you to choose ONE that suits you & you like best.

  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 define 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)

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? You can read the comments left last year by the students of 3F and find the one that suits you best and you feel closer to.

20 thoughts on “Why studying literature?

  1. Hello everybody!
    I want to study literature to learn new things, which are different from the “usual” grammar 😉
    But I still don’t know what to expect from this course on English’s literature…
    Bye 🙂

  2. Hi 🙂
    I want to study literature to learn and discover a different world, that for me is unknown. Studying English literature permits to go beyond a normal English grammar class.
    Moreover, English literature is different from Italian literature: there are different authors, background and a different culture in general.
    I have a lot of expectations from this course. For example: I think I will read and write a lot, learn new vocabulary and go to the theatre.
    However, I think that this subject is more difficult than what we usually do.

  3. Hi everybody!
    I want to study literature because I want to learn the history of the language that we study from the elementary school and to understand better it.
    I hope to learn something that will help me in the future and that I can use in my life, maybe some teachings which we can’t find in the other subjects, because literature is based on human’s life and experience and so I hope to discover a lot of new things that can help me also to overcome the obstacles in my life like the authors did.
    I really look forward to start studying this new subject!!
    Have nice day guys see you tomorrow 🙂

  4. hello everybody!
    I hope that studying literature will be a way to learn a lot of words, given that I have a poor vocabulary. When someone thinks about this subject says it’s boring, but I appreciate the first lesson,how we addresse the issue literature (I hope the next too ;)) definitions of literature and above all the video we saw!
    Also I expect to get into the mindset of the time, understanding what the authors wrote.

    bye 🙂

  5. Hi everybody! 🙂
    In my opinion the first lesson of literature was really provocative and stimulating, in effect I didn’t know exactly what literature was, because I had never reflected upon it.
    Mostly I want to study literature because I’m inquiring, but also because I want to explore a new world, I want to create my own ideas and analyze new points of view. Moreover I want to increase my “cultural and linguistic bagagge”. From the course of literature I expect to know better the English authors, their way of thinking, and the way they share their emotions with the readers.
    Bye!

  6. Hello,
    well i want to study literature cos i really need to be inspired by something and someone.. my life has become somehow ‘plain’ and i need some encouraging words that will make me think, plus i want to know the history of this language that i adore!.. I really don’t know what to expect from this course but i hope it will be fun, fascinating and captivating:)

  7. Hi everybody 🙂
    I want to study literature to discover a new world and a different culture, to analyze the way of thinking and writing of the English authors, and learn new words.
    I think literature is a beautiful subject and I’m very happy to start studying it.
    I have a lot of expectation from this course, for example read and speak a lot.

    Bye 😉

  8. Hi everybody! 🙂
    I want to study literature because I want to see things from other points of view. Like you said in the post, Dante could have written “when I was 35” instead of “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita”, but he didn’t do it! In my opinion he made this decision because he wanted highlight the fact that there’s something more behind the fact of being 35 years old, and I want to study literature to understand what that “something more” is, I want to understand the hidden meaning of the poems, because I think that it can help me at seeing things in a different way.

    From this course, I expect not only to read a lot of poems, but also to analize them and speak about the messages that they want to give.

  9. Hi everybody 😀
    I think that studying english literature we can appreciate more this language because we can discover how it developed.
    I hope that studying this subject can help me to know a lot of new worlds to improve my vocabulary. Moreover I want to study literature because I want to discover the different way of thinking that had those writers. I also want to study literature because everyday I hear a new quotes taken from this author so I want to understand how they invented this phrases and I want to understand their meanings.

  10. Hello everybody 🙂
    I completely agree with Chiara because I think that the first lesson of literature was very interesting and it had encouraged me to study in deep this subject.
    I expect that studying literature we will get better our pronounciation as we won’t learn only grammar and lessic rules but also the culture of English language.
    I don’t like very much reading books but I hope that this new subject will help me to change my idea and to stimulate me to read more willingly!
    See you tomorrow :)) By!

  11. The definition of” literature” in the dictionary is : “the collected creative writing of a nation, people, group, or culture.” ..personally, I couldn’t define it in one sentence, because I have never asked myself what could it be, before. I really like the definitions reported in this post, my favourite ones are, in order, the number 12 and the 7. In my opinion literature is a very interesting subject, mainly because it freely gives an extended understanding of different models, contexts or events. That’s what I especially like! I believe it greatly enlarges and opens our minds, and this helps us. This can inspire us, as well, making inspections and introspections.
    About the video “The fantastic flying books” I loved how much it is communicative although being without speeches; it shows that books are alive as long as we keep reading them, and we are, too. A book, even if it is for a while, can turn your black and white life into a colorful one!
    I really want to thank the book-lovers, and the teachers, because they make us study literature.. *they try to* ahah , seriously, I think it is a good think to study it at school, because one may not be interested or proned to do it by himself..

  12. I think that literature can elevate ours lifes in a really extraordinary way, we can make adventures that we can’t even imagine in the reality, we can know amazing people like Shakespeare, Dickens, Austin, we can travel beyond the time and the space. So if you ask me, “what in your opinion is literature?” I relpy that is an experience, it can change your way of think, maybe your life, maybe it can signify nothing. But in any case earn to be known.

  13. Hello everybody!
    Well, i want to study literature because I want to compare my thoughts with those of other people, also lived hundreds of years before.I want to understand how they lived, in what they believed, but above all the problems that they had. I also would like to find some story/texts that can help me to think, to improve understanding of what they wrote.

    Sincerely, I don’t know what expect from this subject, but i’m sure that i’m going to have a lot of fun although there will be a lot to study 😉

    see you tomorrow !
    bye bye

  14. Hi!
    Well.. Why I want study Literature? Like Abigail, I want to have and know something new that inspired me, something that can change my thoughts, my way of living, how to deal with my life and the chances it give to me. I want to know how and what other people think, what life means to others, but also for me.

    My expectation (it’s more an hope) is, in fact, to read and study something that can help me find what life means to me, what is its “worth”.
    Obviously, I want also to learn A LOT of new words, I want to write and, above all, speak better than now. But all of these things can be “done” in any of our lessons 🙂

  15. I want to study literature because it’s important to know how language changed through the centuries and decades and also how people used to deal with emotions like love, anger and revenge.
    People today think that studying literature is useless because it talks about the past but actually if you read something by Shakespeare, for example, you will realize that you feel the same way and those times are not that far away. Of course people used to live and think differently, but I’m sure you will be able to relate to at least one character of the story. It’s not only about knowledges, it’s about change the way of living: living passionately, joyfully and happily. It might sound stupid, but literature is the key to a better and open-minded world. Reading a book is like laying a brick to build a wall: a wall that will protect you from ignorance, bigotry and even sadness.
    I hope I will learn a lot of the things, improve my vocabulary, and do a lot of activities with my classmates. I’ve always seen literature as a way of escaping from problems of real life and even if it sound like a paradox, a way to fix problems of real life. I’m sure it will be fun, interesting (I will finally study english literature in its original language) and most of all, useful!

  16. Hey there,
    first of all I wanted to apologize, for I couldn’t manage to post this comment before!
    Well, I was really pleased to sit down and discuss on what Literature is, I’ve never thought of that, not in Italian nor in English, so holding the horses and concentrating a moment on what actually Literature is, was a great idea to introduce the subject…I don’t really know what I wanna learn, apart from the vocabulary and new complex writing styles, but I surely know I want to study Literature because every time I read something by Shakespeare, Byron, or other poets I feel somehow reflected in their words. I wanna get to know better the authors and what English was at their time 🙂

  17. Hi everybody 🙂

    First of all I wanted to apologize for the delay, then: why studying literature? At the beginning of the first our Literature lesson I didn’t fail to see the point of studying English Literature, I didn’t find it useful. But, when we started talking about what Literature is I immediately changed my thoughts and appreciate the idea of studying this new subject.
    Now I think English literature can introduce us to a range of aspects, not only of the English language but also of English culture. I really hope we’ll learn also the context and meanings of famous quotes and phrases. I love poets quotes! 🙂 Studying Literature will give us the ability to develop this enjoyment and appreciation of Literature into an interest in books and reading. Studying Literature and learning specific language aspects, such as vocabulary items, will help us to improve our own writing. Finally, the study of Literature can also help us to approach our studies, in particular, and our lives, in general.

    See you tomorrow 🙂

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