Saturday, October 18, 2008

Siegel on Literature's Salvation

In this weekend's New York Times Book Review Lee Siegel takes on the grandiloquent trope that reading literature can make you a better person. After several examples, Siegel writes
I hope you are at least partly convinced by the power of my examples. Somehow, we’ve been sold a bill of goods about how literature empowers us. But the idea that great literature can improve our lives in any way is a con as old as culture itself. The University of Chicago’s Great Books course? Think Tammany Hall. “Willing suspension of disbelief”? Code for: distract him while I lift his wallet. The government regulates drugs, alcohol and (finally) bad lending practices. How long can we continue to allow the totally laissez-faire dissemination of literature? Not even a warning from the surgeon general or the attorney general, or some sort of general, on the back of every book?

Siegel's a crank, but he's my kind of crank -- critical but with tongue near enough to cheek to mitigate his most tendentious pronouncements.

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