Monday, April 25, 2011

Does Literature Even Matter?

Last week, we talked briefly about the purpose of literature and its role as a "performance." It was towards the end of class, so we didn't have much time to discuss, and I was curious as to what everyone thought about this topic. What does literature accomplish? Now that we are finishing up the semester, I think this is a good, broad question to ask. I'm an English major, and I've always pondered this. I haven't taken Critical Methods yet, but I hear that this is one of the major questions that class aims to answer. Writers oftentimes write stories that respond to the social and political tensions of their time period, but they do not necessarily go out and act upon the message they send to their readers. Can literature inspire readers to act, or is literature simply a "performance" meant to entertain? Thoreau himself once said, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."


  1. Good question! I don't think it has to be one way or the other - performance or inspiring action - it can be both. Of course, it depends on the author and their motivation, but even if a piece of literature is simply meant to entertain, there is something behind that which inspired them to write. In some writers that passion/inspiration is clear while reading their literature, in others it is more subtle and difficult to pick up. Either way, if the author's passion comes across, readers take in that passion. Emerson for example (I am doing my paper on him) wrote about escaping society and connecting with your true inner spirit, but he also gave speeches or wrote sermons about various political/social issues such as slavery, manifest destiny, westward expansion, ect. Because he inspired people as a writer, the pubic took Emerson's views on these issues very seriously and joined various movements that Emerson was involved in (abolitionists). So you can argue that Emerson's literature was meant to entertain, but it definitely has a much stronger meaning that inspired people to act. That may not be the same for all authors, but I certainly wouldn't argue that literature is just about performance.

  2. You should look at the blog archives, as this space, once upon a time, allowed students to blog about Critical Methods.