Why Literature still Matters

Literary critic Morris Dickstein writes about why he thinks literature still matters in "The Undying Animal: Why Literature still Matters."

He argues (and I agree) that literature still has value because it takes as its primary subject matter the often conflicting ideas and emotions that are at the core of what it is to be human. Either by the subtle or the overt, by the implied or by the obvious, good literature resonates with something essential to our lives.

Dickstein seeks to explain why literature matters "at a time when literary study is on the defensive, even in universities that once nurtured it." In answering this question, he also questions the legitimacy of literary critics and an academic community built around literature.

He concludes,
We readers and critics do what we do because we love it, but also because it disquiets us, throws us off balance, unsettles our easy assumptions. No two readings of a genuinely significant book, no performances of a living play, are ever quite the same. When they work their spell, they enfold us in an action that is radically provisional, not easily paraphrased, open to interpretation — and therefore to the unexpected. Since literature resists closure, our work — which is not exactly work — remains open-ended, with no real endgame. Always provisional, never definitive, this wisdom is our special form of knowing.
November 25, 2008


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