‘‘The way light at the edge of a beach in autumn is learned’’: Literature as learning: Frank B. Farrell
Defenders of the humanities hold that the reading of excellent works of litera-
ture has cognitive rewards, that it contributes, regarding both individuals and
cultures, to the development of capacities to make sense of the world and of
ourselves. That claim may come under pressure from two quite different sour-
ces. Those in the Anglo-American tradition of philosophical practice may look
at the rich philosophical literature that has shaped a network of concepts around
the idea of knowledge: truth, belief, assertion, justiﬁcation, and the like. They
may conclude from such work that whatever beneﬁts the reading of literature
might bring, that experience should not count as the acquisition of knowledge.1
A different sort of pressure is put on that claim by those who practice academic
literary theory and criticism.2 They believe that an understanding of the com-
plex machineries of language, rhetoric, and textuality will make one skeptical
about the notion that literary texts are world-revealing in any signiﬁcant sense.
Literature itself does not make our cognitive capacities more sophisticated; only
the critic’s deconstructive reading might do this.