Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Literature and Empathy

Question: Is one of our goals in teaching literature empathy?

Answer: According to the author, if we think empathizing with characters will produce empathetic students is a goal of literature study, we are mistaken. Studying literature cannot produce students who are empathetic. Rather, look to the institutions at which our students study. Do our institutions reflect an empathetic spirit? That spirit will be catching and we have a much better chance of sensitizing students to empathy by example. Reading literature by itself does not produce empathetic students.

Quote: “If respectful, thoughtful, and humane ways of being, thinking, and acting are valued elements of institutional culture, then we will have, at the very least, created the conditions where students can both be introduced to the complexity of empathy and experience it as a daily practice.” P. 24.

Comment: In The Western Canon, Harold Bloom says that literature does not exist to alter individuals or society; that the Canon displays a complex view of humanity; that people read to enlarge their lonely existence by understanding the complexity of motivation and point of view in the world, but without didacticism and moralizing. RayS.

Title: “Empathy and the Critic.” Ann Jurecic. College English (September 2011), 10-27.

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