Monday, May 18, 2009

Why study literature? UP Circa 2004

Last weekend, I rummaged through my UP files and found this paper I wrote four years ago in one of my Comparative Literature classes. The course was entitled Teaching Comparative Literature a.k.a CL 191. I was amazed that I wrote something like this. LOL I miss school. I miss studying. I miss UP. I need to study again. Sigh.

Anyway, I am posting the paper I wrote. For posterity's sake. Read on....


Lucielle M. Hernandez
CL 191
Prof. Torrecampo

Why study literature?

When people hear the word literature, a mental image of thick books, thick-eyeglassed students, and a bunch of wierdos come into their mind. They think that literature and liberal arts are all about reading novels, stories and discussing morals. In the elementary level, children are introduced to fairy tales, stories with moral lessons and are taught to imitate the good characters and shun the bad ones. At the high school level, students are acquainted with the classics and the gems of Asian and Anglo-American Literature. Quite sadly, in the collegiate level, these traditional views on literature are carried over and propagated.
Some students enroll in literature classes because they think that the class would all be about ‘tsimisan’. They come and go without really learning why they need to read these novels, what its implication are then and now.
Liberal education, to be true to its sense, according to the essay Liberal Arts in a Technocratic Society “is a process of learning and unlearning: for it must submit to relentless criticism all assumptions and doctrines that men have imbibed through the force of authority”. This is so good to be true. For we know so well how politically motivates our system of education is. There is always politics involved in the designation of teachers, students and subjects. Most of the activities in and outside the classroom one way or another, serve the ruling class. In this manner, liberal education becomes a hoax. How can liberal education exist when any college or university is controlled by the ruling class? How can learning and unlearning be done if the discussion is limited to the teacher’s discretion?
Liberal education should enhance the ability of the students to think critically. I think, its main task is to help the students widen out their perspectives of people and culture. The study of literature, if handled properly, would help students to shed their prejudice towards the rest of humanity. Moreover, when reading, true advocates of liberal education help students to assess and reassess assumptions on certain issues and problems addressed in the reading material.
Now, another question is how do we teach literature?
I am not offering any step-by-step procedure of how to teach it. I would just like to comment on the essay by Isagani Cruz, Jr. entitled Criticism in the Classroom: Teaching Philippine Literature. In this essay, there are six fallacies mentioned that teachers of literature should be wary of. But mind you, there are two fallacies, which I do not wholly agree with. These I will discuss later. Let us go first through the four fallacies that one should be careful with. First is the “Fallacy of the New Critical Heresy”. Still, the New Criticism, in spite of the developments in literary theory and criticism, is continually embraced and revered by most educators of literature, especially the generation of the American New Criticism. In the advent of the various discussions in feminism, surrealism, post-modernism and more, there are those who, in some strange archaic way, separate the material being read from the social and political history of the time it was written. The material is put in a box and from there the discussion of organic unity, use of metaphors, rhyme, rhythm and other formal elements are satisfied, a good literature, they would say. But does it end there? Where can learning and unlearning be utilized? How can real education occur? If you were able to identify the parts correctly, what does it make of you? No learning occurs. The students leave the classroom without knowing what they had just read. Sad to say, such phenomenon permeates even among our CL classes.
Another fallacy is the “Footnote Mania”. I must admit, I have been guilty of this one. Every time a class requires us to submit a paper, students like myself, use too many footnotes.
Sometimes, the footnotes are inappropriate or wrongly applied. Secondary resources are there to aid the students, provide a springboard for their respective discussions. However, too much reliance on footnotes hinders learning and exercise of thinking. I am actually glad that our thesis advisers do not require specific numbers of footnotes. As a result, it helped us think in our own terms and assess what we have learned.
The third fallacy is the “Masterpiece Syndrome”. This addresses the problem of who’s who in the literary world. Usually, the masters or the members of the literary canon are privileged in classroom discussions. However, students should realize that even these authors of the canon did not finish their work overnight so it is such an oversight to consider them as demigods or someone to be worshipped. They can be criticized, their assumptions and beliefs can be questioned and if necessary and proven, their assumptions can be debunked.
The fourth fallacy, or appropriately called a myth is the “Monolingual Myty”. When my friends and I were asked what our course is, we always answered, “Comparative Literature”. A follow-up question was, “Eh di binabasa ninyo lagi sila Shakespeare, Edgar Alla Poe….yada…yada…” and a list of English and American authors flows. Sometimes we wanted to answer back and throw names like Balza, Flaubert, Schiller, Calvino, Fanon, Derrida, Sartre, Achebe and even Bienvenido Santos, Arcellana, Bulosan just in case they have not heard of European, African and Philippine Literature. There is a whole lot of literature other than Anglo-American. The problem that these literature have to face is the issue of translation.
They do not reach the number of readers as that of the scope of English Literature. The survey courses in CL compensate for this, yet, the depth of the discussion is limited because of time and resources.
The fifth and sixth fallacies are the ones I wish to comment against. The fifth fallacy is “The Fallacy of the Amateur Sociologist, or Psychologist, or Political Scientist or Whatever” and the sixth fallacy which is closely related is ‘Anti-Schizophrenic of Fear of the Double”. I think these are specifically addressed to Comparative Literature (CL) majors who profess to think they know everything. CL, by definition, is interdisciplinary and the beauty and breadth of CL lies in this nature. Through the study of literature, our knowledge of the various influences, connections and interrelationships of the the author to his environment, to a specific ideology, to other disciplines widens our perspectives expand when we read. Thus, it is important that we have the proper knowledge of the other disciplines and how they are related to literature. Yes, our main concern is literature. However, we know that literature does not exist per se. Thus, it is necessary for a teacher of literature to discuss politics, gender, psychology or anthropology depending on the material under study.
Liberal education and literature should help humanize professions. Again in the essay The Liberal Arts… “the liberal education should provide future specialists with a broad perspective so they can relate their respective specializations to the other aspects of human life, so they will be constantly alert to the probable implications of their work on the total human condition”.
The success and effectiveness of liberal education lies in the hands of the educators and the students as well. This requires cooperation and a deep understanding of the role of education in shaping the minds of the people.


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