Current/Recent Reading List

02 July 2007

Hanging On

My bete noir, as I've mentioned before, is that nagging question the kids ask when we study literature: "How is this stuff possibly going to help me in life?"

In An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, Roger Scruton gives English teachers (or at least those of a certain bent) and their ilk this nugget to ponder in an age of both disappearing high culture and common culture:
...there arises what has become, for teachers of the humanities, the most pressing of moral dilemmas. Do we attempt to impart our culture to the young, knowing that we can only do so by requiring efforts which they themselves may see as wasted? Or do we leave them to their own devices, and allow the culture which shaped us, and which provides our lasting images of value, to die?

Well, I plan to hang on to option A until they pry my cold, dead fingers from it. However, it continues to be hard out here for a believer in the value of ye olde arts and literature. Case in point comes from Anthony Daniels' recent essay in New Criterion entitled "Diagnosing Lear" (registration reqd.), in which Daniels, a doctor himself, points out the periodic need that certain well-read physicians and psychoanalysts have had to figure out what illness plagued Shakespeare's famous character. After all, there would have been no need for all this family trauma to be wrought upon the stage if only Lear had been alive in a more reasoned, scientific age, right? To wit:
If only Lear had taken the right pills, everything would have been all right, and Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia would have been like the Andrews Sisters. The only question Lear raises for the modern mind is how to get him, or anyone like him, to the right doctor on time, before it is too late; presumably absolute monarchs carry adequate health insurance.

Daniels' chief objection is "that the medicalization of Lear’s behavior deprives it of moral significance."

Indeed. But then, "How is this moral significance stuff possibly going to help me in life?"


Deep Furrows said...

I guess it all depends on how you define life. If life is making lots of bucks in order to buy everything that tv tells you to, then literature is a distraction at best. ~Fred

School Master P said...

Truly. One way I try to make my case is to question/badger the kids until they admit that most of the things they really care about don't come with price tags, and that these are the things most worth our time. The fact that they need to be reminded of that tells you all about the times we live in.