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The Vital Need for Literature Today

Posted on | February 16, 2014 | 2 Comments

So what is it we teach when we teach literature? What is it that we convey when we engage in discussions about books or encourage our students to write their own stories and poems? What do we allow them to explore when we teach Memoir? I’ll call all of these activities by the same term, the Study of Literature, since they are all linked. All literature is predicated on one thing – that the characters or narrators in the stories encounter struggles and then have to choose whether or not to face them. It would be fair to say that literature is therefore implicitly concerned with the virtue of courage – that virtue without which no others can exist. Whether it’s Emily Dickinson asking us to take the step of sharing her unusual view of the world, and risk the puzzled looks of our neighbors, or if it’s Odysseus refusing to give up in his quest to get home, courage is at the core of literature. Reading about it, talking about it, we grow our own courage. In the outside world we don’t have too much opportunity to examine courage, and see whether or not we’ll actually live up to those standards. And increasingly most of us don’t. We act out of self-interest and expediency. We do tend to play safe – with the exception of the bungee-jumping thrill junkies who think that extreme sports are the same thing as moral courage, as “doing the right thing”. They are not the same thing. Courage - thoughtful, considered, unselfish actions that are about choosing the humane path – is in short supply in our modern world. Literature can help us grow this virtue. And that is just one reason to consider literature as a vital area of study for all people, everywhere.


2 Responses to “The Vital Need for Literature Today”

  1. Nancy
    February 16th, 2014 @ 11:03 am

    I am wholeheartedly in alignment with the study of literature, even more now than ever, as I apply my life experiences to my memoir. Courage is coming forth within my soul work as I express memories into literary form. A powerful process and appreciate your book “Write Your Memoir” as I utilize your techniques for effective writing. Thank you for your exemplary example of your high standards of writing for me to follow. With gratitude, Nancy

  2. Sara
    February 17th, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

    Wow. It never occurred to me to think of the study of literature as a study on courage. And if I think back on just about any book I’ve ever read – or some of my favorite poems – each one tells a story of courage. Sometimes the act of courage is more obvious or externally noticeably; other times, it’s quiet or unexpected, like the writer is coaxing or daring the reader to perform some kind of act of courage. This idea (telling stories of courage through literature) is also something aspiring writers ought to keep in mind. Because if a protagonist doesn’t act out of courage and consequently evolve by the book’s end, how can the story hold the reader’s interest? I think you just gave me a neat idea for a future Chronicling The Craft article, Dr. Hunter!

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    Hi—I’m Allan Hunter, author of The Path of Synchronicity, The Six Archetypes of Love and Stories We Need to Know as well as two books on writing for self-exploration, Life Passages and The Sanity Manual. If you’re looking to live your best life I hope you’ll find lots of inspiration here.

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