Beyond Debunking: Reading for Truth with the Humanities

Recovering cynics of all ages can benefit from reading Mark Edumdson’s argument that our time is well spent trying to read for truth and study the humanities. Why? In Why Read?, he finds the answer in our hunger for true experience: “For the simple reason that for many people, the truth–the circle, the vision of experience that they’ve encountered through socialization is inadequate. It doesn’t put them into a satisfying relationship to experience” (52). Here are a few other appeals for reading and studying the humanities–in school or out.

In terms of literary reading, Beth Ann Fennelly explains “How literature — yes, literature — can help you better connect with others.” Fennelly identifies herself as an “evangelist for a declining field: literature.” Essentially, Fennelly points to brain science and some accumulated wisdom that thoughtfully reading literary works can make us more empathetic people. Hmmm…I wonder where we might need that in our personal and public lives?

Here’s how I’ve adapted Fennelly’s argument in appealing to my students to stick with my honors and AP English Literature and Composition course this year: Employers and community members are increasingly concerned about soft skills like open-mindedness, critical thinking, and empathy. How could you focus on the study and reading of literature this year as a means of building your soft-skill resume? 

They seemed to appreciate Beth Ann Fennelly’s argument and my appeal, but I feel the influence starting to wane as we approach the end of the semester, so I’ll be doing some revisiting soon. It’s a good argument for me to keep in mind because I can too easily become a bit alliterate. As a counter-measure, I plan on reading Ellie Wiesel’s Twilight: A Novel [No, It’s not the vampire thing!] and Shusaku Endo’s Silence in the near future. I’m sharing this publicly in my blog in part to keep myself accountable and authentic. Even better, perhaps I can recruit some fellow readers to discuss these texts with.

At the beginning of the year, I also employed Joshua Landy and his video segment on “What One Should Learn from Artists” from “The Art of Living” series at Stanford. Landy is a great apologist for art, literature, and the humanities. Despite the potential perception of elitism when seeing that he’s from Stanford, his appeals ring true for inviting everyone to consider the life-enhancing power and beauty of art, literature, and the humanities.

So, “Take up and read; Take up and read.”

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