Cory Leonard

Why Study Liberal Arts?

In career on August 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

In the face of “humanities decline” and the debate over “relevant coursework” its nice to see a good friend–turning 50 this year, by the way–that continues to thrive. Stephen Greenblatt notes, “through reading literature we can make ghosts speak to us, and we can speak back to them. Besides–as many studies ahve shown–cultural knowledge turns out to be good for your career.”

For a prospective undergraduate reading this Q. and A., how would you answer the question, Why study literature?

Abrams: Ha — Why live? Life without literature is a life reduced to penury. It expands you in every way. It illuminates what you’re doing. It shows you possibilities you haven’t thought of. It enables you to live the lives of other people than yourself. It broadens you, it makes you more human. It makes life enjoyable. There’s no end to the response you can make to that question, but Stephen has a few things to add.

Greenblatt: Literature is the most astonishing technological means that humans have created, and now practiced for thousands of years, to capture experience. For me the thrill of literature involves entering into the life worlds of others. I’m from a particular, constricted place in time, and I suddenly am part of a huge world — other times, other places, other inner lives that I otherwise would have no access to.

Abrams: Yes. Literature makes life much more worth living.

Greenblatt: You speak with the full wisdom of your hundred years of life.

Abrams: That’s portentous enough.

via ‘Norton Anthology of English Literature’ Turns 50 –


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