TODAY -

Should Literature be 'Taught'?

Ananya S Guha *



Sometimes I wonder should literature be 'taught'? After all, the literary domain is not only the prerogative of a chosen few, but of everyone, who love to read fiction or poetry or for that matter drama.

Again, drama, should it be taught as part of literature, or of the performing arts, where it should be acted out? There is a discrepancy between the textual drama, and the one that is performed. The latter would emphasize on theatrics, nuances of the play, the sudden shift in scenes, the internal monologues, or for that matter a soliloquy.

When it comes to the text, the interpretations are taught, the characterization process, and things are learned in a way to study for examinations. There is no visualization process, which is the methodology and grand design of a play. Once, it is enacted then the creative processes at work unfurl, similarly with a poem, it should be read out loud, in a way 'performed' so that the innate logic of poetry through word play has a mesmeric and haunting effect upon the reader or the listener.

The sheer pleasure of literature is accessible to all and sundry, not only the ones who opt for it as a subject, in fact the latter and 'studying' it for examinations mars much of its pleasure, as one is concentrating more on interpretative texts, to do well in examinations, rather than looking at canonical reading, and the body of work of a particular author.

For example say I loved reading a particular novel of Charles Dickens, that should prompt me to read his other novels, in that way I acquire an 'understanding' of the creative processes at work in his novels, the range and inter-textuality. But while studying to earn a degree, one is rushed up for time, and one concentrates more on secondary sources, that is the interpretative or critical text, what others have to say, rather than what I have to say.

The pleasures of reading literature are like the pleasures of philosophy, as a popular philosopher says. The pleasures of literature are from gainful reading, mulling over the tides of time, empathizing, sympathizing, self identification, and going through the maze and conundrums of words. It is not the selling aspect of prose and poetry which matters, but what 'buys' the reader into thinking and simply relishing experiences of prose, poetry and drama.

Literature cannot be taught, nor can it be learned, it can only be enjoyed scrupulously, so that literary thoughts are embedded in the mind for further creative efflorescence. There are many who do well in examinations, but do not have the sensitiveness to imagine textual interplays and the menagerie of words, which make up a literary text in spaces of the time- universe continuum.

One of the best interpretations of the novel "A Passage To India" I heard not from a teacher but an actor who acted in the movie directed by David Lean. With much deference to my teacher who taught it at the University I found the latter's classes very vapid and boring. However, when the actor translated his experience of acting in the movie and what he felt of the characters in the novel, gave me more insights into the creative processes unfurling the novel.

In fact, I thought I understood it better as the actor continued to expatiate not only on the characters of the novel but the interweaving of the characters in relation to the role of the character he depicted and played. Particular 'meanings' in a literary text first are evoked within the reader and it is only later that he goes to examine what critics have to say.

The outcome of wide reading of literature could be a stimulation which can motivate an avid reader to be a writer or a creative writer. If a student of literature imbibes creative processes and turns to creative writing then only I think can the vocation of reading literature have tangible results. All such readers need not become professors of the subject.

The tangible outcome of studying a particular subject should not necessarily result in professorial outcomes but should be directly connected to the subject such as creative writing, performance, theatre, art and painting. A thespian need not have got a formal degree in the subject, nor a painter or for that matter an actor.

Some of the best interpretations of poems and texts that I read while a teacher in a college were from science undergraduates who pursued a career remotely unconnected with literature but they were and I hope still are very good writers. The number of management and engineering graduates who are taking to professional writing today is a testimony to their wide reading and also a pointer to the fact that literature and creative writing is not exclusivist to the student of the discipline.

One of the greatest poets in India writing in English taught Physics in a college in Orissa for over three decades. PhD dissertations are one thing but original creative writing is another.

My argument is provocative for the simple reason that I have come across astonishing writers who were not necessarily formally grounded in the study of the subject. Rather, what they read was out of inner promptitude which resulted in finer instincts of writing, call it creative or whatever you may choose to.


* Ananya S Guha wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
The writer is OSD, IGNOU Institute for Vocational Education & Training (IIVET), Shillong
This article was posted on June 24, 2013.



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