A Contradiction?

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From Literary Theory by Terry Eagleton:

"Literature is not a way of knowing reality but kind of collective utopian dreaming which has gone on throughout history, an expression of those fundamental human desires which have given rise to civilization itself, but which are never fully satisfied there" (80).

   I thought that this quote was very interesting, not to mention helpful to my understanding of literature (or was it?).  I have difficulty with not looking at a piece of literature as though it was the real world.  For example, when I read Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger I had a hard time not relating it to real life, people I knew, etc.  But Wittlinger intended the book as a companion to young adults who are having difficulty with their identities, parents, sexuality, and many other issues.  Everything she used, although it existed within a strictly fantasy universe, could have happened and has happened.  What I'm getting at is my own issues with drawing parallels between a piece of literature and my life in papers.  What I get out of this quote is that it is ok to relate to what you're reading because it is human nature, but you have to remember that although it may be modeled off of real life, it isn't real life and thus it cannot impact us.

I'm not so sure whether or not I agree with that, if that is what Eagleton is trying to say.  Upton Sinclair who wrote The Jungle to improve the meat packing industry and working conditions.  His literature eventually did impact real life.  His novel jumped off of the pages and helped working conditions and helped popularize muckraking (type of journalism that digs for injustices and points them out to society).  I'm not so sure this is what Eagleton was trying to prove, but I'm just trying to understand.  Eagleton even makes, what I see as a contradiction by saying, "Structuralism and phenomenology, dissimilar though they are in central ways, both spring from the ironic act of shutting out the material world in order the better to illuminate our consciousness of it" (95).  To me, this says that we can learn about real life through literature.  I guess that maybe what Eagleton's stance on this may be similar to his definition of "literature" which is basically that it is constantly changing and almost impossible to pinpoint. 

What do you think?  Can you learn about life through literature?  Do you ever write about this in your papers?

Ok...enough of this.  I'm going back to the course webpage.

2 Comments

Greta Carroll said:

Angela, what I get from your first quote from Eagleton is not that he means it can’t impact our real lives, but instead literature has always been and always will be a way for us to realize our desires which are not realizable in life. It’s our way of creating the “perfect” world we can’t have.

But I think you are right too, there are many, many authors, who create horrible scenarios as well in order to enact change and to wake us up. (Another example that I think of from our science class is Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring). As for learning about life from literature, I definitely think that you can. It can give you new perspectives on things, just thing how many different ways Literary Criticism gives you to look at a book.

I can’t say that I usually write about how literature relates to my life though, since this usually is not considered acceptable, lol.

Michelle Tantlinger said:

For our YA class I surveyed teen readers and one of the things they liked about reading was that they could expierence things they wouldn't normally do in life. I think that is one of the greatest things about literature.

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