Friday, March 06, 2009

Why Read? by Mark Edmundson

In Why Read? by Mark Edmundson laments that teaching of the humanities no longer involves students struggling with great works of literature. Edmundson alleges that the teaching literary theory that now passes for education in the humanities is actually an impediment to the real power and use of great literature. Edmundson argues that books should not just be read, and certainly not read as a mechanical exercise in which to apply your pet literary theory -- marxism, psychoanalysis, feminisim, etc. -- but instead a book should read you. Edmundson believes, with Milan Kundera that great works of literature provide experimental selves, people that we could be or become. Edmundson elaborates by with a lengthy quote from Proust:

I thought more modestly about my book, and it would be inaccurate even to say that I thought of those who would read it as 'my' readers. For it seemed to me that they would not be 'my' readers but readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers -- it would be my book but with it I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves.


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