Why Study Literature?

By Jan Alber; Stefan Iversen et al. | Go to book overview
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The editors

“Why study literature?” is an important question that continuously needs to be asked and framed. This book aims to provide a range of answers that takes into account the current status and challenges of literary studies. The book is thus one step on the road towards a theoretically well-founded basis and explanation for what might presently be considered a relatively unfounded historical fact: that literature and the teaching of literature hold a privileged place in many educational institutions in fields of study otherwise defined or outlined geographically or by language, as for instance in the departments of English, French, German, and Scandinavian that are still common in both Europe and the United States. We hope that the question “Why study literature?” will provide new ways of thinking about the historical, epistemological, and institutional role of literature.

In this introduction, we will outline first some often reiterated but probably untenable defences of literature, and some equally common and we believe equally untenable attacks on literature (or arguments in favor of the death of literature). Secondly, we will present earlier books and approaches that address the question of “why study literature?”. Notably, almost all of these studies focus on literature itself rather than on the question of why it should be studied within the educational system. Thirdly, we will present a range of reasons why people should study literature, and finally we will outline the structure of the present volume as well as each of the contributions.


“Literature is under pressure” has become a recurring mantra for both those who welcome and those who dread a decline of literature. Why is that? Is it true? And if so: in what sense? At the very least the omnipresence of the feeling or its expression suggests that the study of literature is no longer an auto-legitimizing enterprise. And indeed, there is a level at which the study


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