Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seems that Deresiewicz got it wrong

Like many embattled humanists, Deresiewicz is eager to explain why he is not a scientist. “We ask of a scientific proposition, ‘Is it true?,’ but of a proposition in the humanities we ask, ‘Is it true for me?’ ” he writes. “The highest function of art, and of literature in particular, is to bring us to that knowledge of ourselves that college ought to start to give us.” He later drives the point home: “ ‘That’s me!’: the essential experience of art.”
That, of course, is complete and utter crap. And I don't know where the poor boy got that idea, though I seemed to utter such thoughts in my youth. Fortunately Heller knows this:
This is a stunning definition, and not just because it is plainly untrue. (Do we appreciate Borges’s “The Library of Babel” because we see ourselves in it? Is familiarity the essential experience of “Blue Velvet” or, for that matter, “Spaceballs”?) Reading for self-recognition is the default factory setting in most people’s minds. It is precisely the approach to literature that you don’t need to attend college to learn. When Deresiewicz insists that an objective of literary study, and the multiple perspectives it admits, is ultimately to give kids “models” and “values” that may inform their self-understanding, he’s embracing a pretty solipsistic measure of virtue—something closer to therapy than to scholarship.

No comments:

Post a Comment