Embracing the Impact of Literature

Literature is made to move readers, to make them think.  In her article “Literature and Life,” Rebecca Mead writes, “The hope that safety might be found… in a classroom where literature is being taught is in direct contradiction to one purpose of literature, which is to give expression through art to difficult and discomfiting ideas, and thereby to enlarge the reader’s experience and comprehension. The classroom can never be an entirely safe space, nor, probably, should it be.” 

While MU English recognizes that some issues in books, films, and other types of media may trigger emotional responses, we hope to help students work through such difficult emotions by discussing cultural products that make an impact on our lives, our thoughts, and even our actions.  While some experiences represented in art (war, assault, death, racism, hatred, etc.) might be disconcerting, by exploring these emotions we all can begin to understand this experience called life. 

Many authors have recognized this impact of literature.  For example, Kafka wrote:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy…? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.” Kafka letter, January 1904.

Should a reading disturb you, for whatever reason, and you want to discuss it more, please talk with your professor or someone in the Counseling Center in Lyle, whoever seems most appropriate and comfortable for you.