7 feb. 2011

"Literature is what is taught, period."

That sentence is from Roland Barthes's "Reflection on a Manual," found in The Rustle of Language. I still remember the shock of reading it for the first time. Surely Barthes was being profoundly ironical; he couldn't really mean this? Surely real literature occurs outside the walls of academe, and the teaching of it is only an accidental by-product, an academic reduction of the real thing.

Yet I don't think he was being totally ironical in not seeing literature as lying, in any way, outside the academic subject of "literature," even as he deconstructs a manual (textbook). He wants a better textbook, a better pedagogy, not an escape from the classroom.

We could teach literature less academically, but we would still be teaching it. It would be mauvaise foi to pretend otherwise.

2 comentarios:

Clarissa dijo...

I don't like Roland Barthes too much but this statement is priceless. It was only after I started taking literature courses that I realized that what I had been doing before wan't really reading. Deciphering words and sentences does not translate into understanding literature.

I loved literature courses that I took as an undergrad because every class was like witnessing a miracle that would happen before my eyes. A professor would take a work of literature that I thought I understood and would reveal so many more hidden meanings, issues, questions.

So I think Barthes is right. Literature is taught.

Zed dijo...

I suppose a corollary is that literature in English began to exist in the 19th century?