chapter  17
20 Pages

‘‘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.