Friday, July 10, 2009

Literary Theory

"If you allow a lot of young people to do nothing for a few years but read books and talk to each other then it is possible that, given certain circumstances, they will not only begin to question some of the values transmitted to them, but begin to interrogate the authority by which they are transmitted" (Eagleton, 175).
This could be true. I found in my own education that this is a possibility. However, not every student is an English major, like myself, or even a humanities student. Most people I've come across who weren't humanities students hated to read. The certain circumstances then depend largely on motivation to read and discuss in the first place.
What seems to be lacking in language studies is a clear purpose. Why even bother reading, besides the occassional enjoyment from pulp fiction? Why does one care enough to spend time and energy getting through texts that seem to need a field guide to understand? Language studies seems to have drifted from transmission of ideas and discussion of truths to summarizing of story plots and character strengths. This is not only incredibly easy, but also pointless.
Eagleton, in his introduction to Literary Theory, states the main purpose of literary study is to manipulate the language. Eagleton points to the idea that "many films and works of philosophy are considerably more valuable than much that is included in literary canon" (176). For example, Plato's Republic is not a part of standard Language Arts reading lists, but the cave allegory is a pillar of literary construction. Other works often not seen are ones that create much controversy, but have become foundations for great works of canonized literature. These books include Marx's manifesto, the Evolution of Species, and the three sacred texts from the three largest world religions, the Torah, Bible, and Q'ran.
This idea that literature can challenge and change the status quo is nothing more than an ideal. Certain circumstances never seem to line up in an educational system domineered by canon, standardized testing, and uniform learning frameworks. Gone, it seems, are the days of group contemplation and the humanity of Humanities.
Recently, in the Boston Globe (July 5, 2009) there was an article about a book club for the homeless, which was put together by a Boston lawyer, and his homeless buddy. http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/07/05/from_a_rare_friendship_a_book_club_for_the_homeless_is_born/

It seems true discussion can and does happen, but not always in the classroom, and not always in the learning instituions. Eagleton points out that even though the humanities exists to portray "the social order in which it exists", this social order seldom has the time to appreciate. "Who is concerned with the uniqueness of the individual, the imperishable truths of the human condition, or the sensuous textures of lived experience" in the realms or business, economics, science, and politics? There is something to be said of a group of society's most down trodden as the only group willing to use literature to empower.

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