In the past, the men of earth made a ritual of gathering around a lively fire every night. They brought out their books on poetry and dawdled upon every verse, lingered upon the imagery, marvelled upon the poet’s genius, while having a splendid time together. As time passed, they eventually created what is now known as a university and decided to introduce a five-month elective in poetry. The dawdling, lingering and marvelling stopped. Cramming, breezing and regurgitating began.
Indeed, turning literature into an academic discipline taxes the wholeness of a literary experience. It certainly does one happy to see that teaching literature is now given due importance in most O/A Level schools across the country. However, relegating the great works of drama, prose, and poetry to the mundane rules of the classroom prevents a reader from gaining the maximum out of the great works.
When reading great works, ones grasp on language strengthens. One begins to use correct language instinctively without soliciting the wisdom of Google, and besides, the careful reading of descriptions adds new adjectives to the vocabulary. Thus, overall communication abilities improve.
Secondly, the reading of literature can instill a remarkable sensitivity in a person. With regular reading, one becomes accustomed to the constant engagement of all these senses. In real life, this practice enables one to pierce the surface of different situations and grasp the timid underplays of words, tones and facial expressions.
Though the focus on literature is certainly heartening to observe within schools and universities, this field of study is dealt with most distastefully. At both the school and university levels, students are taught literature just as they are taught a course in economics or mathematics: volumes of poetry are assigned to be read within days, short stories are to be written and submitted by a certain date and in-class creative writing is to be completed within an assigned time. The typical conduct of the classroom makes light of dense works of Shakespeare or Eliot. There is little time to stop and savour a single author’s creativity since there is an overwhelming list of texts to be covered. The reading of great works thus turns into a ponderous chore instead of a delightful diversion. It actually begins to work the other way round by making students detest literature. As Vladimir Nabakov, the creator of the marvellous Lolita, beautifully puts it: “Literature, real literature, must not be gulped down like some potion … Literature must be taken and broken to bits, pulled apart, squashed … And only then, its rare flavour will be appreciated at its true worth.”
Stories and poems are to be enjoyed, not ‘academised’. Students must be schooled in literature not through competitive examinations, but by impassioned readers and writers who allow interest to develop naturally and for inspiration to fuel and unleash on its own.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2012.
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