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Literacy: The End and Means of Literature

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In modern times a gap has appeared between the arts of history and literature, and the sciences of historicism and criticism. Many modern critics, historians, and teachers of literature and history (and even many so-called authors of literature) have welcomed, or at least complied with, the “scientification” of their arts, resulting in widespread illiteracy with regard to literature and history. The solution to this problem lies in a (re-)investigation of how the art of literature teaches us the truth. I maintain that the lifeblood of literature is the set of common joys and griefs, the common blessings and sufferings, of mankind. Without a communication of these passions as passions with the result of a transformation or shaping of the soul – without a mimesis, as the Greeks would say –across the boundaries of tribe, race, gender and era, there is no literature; and no literacy. Using a scene from Solzhenitsyn's First Circle, I argue that these passions are part of the truth (or falsity) of any story involving human beings. So literature and history would both be restored if the writers, readers, and teachers of each developed a deeper concern for the whole truth.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Nebraska at Kearney, USA

Publication date: 2004-07-01

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