The purposes of the study
I did not expect that one of the first pieces included in the Blog would end up constituting the most open page. I really can’t explain the reason, hidden for me in the mystery of how search engines work: what do people find when they start surfing the internet? why end up opening a strange page of someone who, probably, is a stranger to them?
I do not feel, however, to ignore this fact and proceed by asking myself what type of answer is sought by searching for those who type on Google: “What is literature for?”
From the Blog I wanted to eliminate the possibility of talking directly with the more or less casual visitors, I detest the affirmed habit of producing “captatio benevolentiae” by inviting the reader with the inflated: “say ‘yours'” “leave a comment!”. I don’t like chats, I don’t like the possibility that we are surrounded by talking to others hiding our identity, hiding behind nick names, having the impression of existing only because it is very easy to see our words wandering in the ocean without web background.
I am not regretted at all and I have no intention of changing this setting of the Blog, but in the case of my article I keep asking myself how it is read by the many people who open it. They are satisfied? were they looking for different arguments? Is there still something I can communicate to those who found it interesting?
That article of two years ago took up comments born a long time ago, in a context and with different aims; was and is written with extensive recourse to metaphors, paradoxes, boutades, in the belief that the answer to the title question is automatically weakened and risks being meaningless if faced with referential language, if reduced to a sort of list of expenditure of good intentions. True, all true, but these days I doubt that many are looking for something clearer, a more easily expendable answer, a stimulus to resolve concrete doubts.
And then I decided to resume the discussion, to list the “aims” that can be traced in the literature and in his study; in doing so I chose to be as linear and schematic as possible; at the same time I honestly declare that I speak of “goals” closely related to study and knowledge, because I categorically reject the “School of the transition from knowledge to skills” (but I will talk about this, I hope, in a future article).
Perhaps the list that follows will appear boring, in some cases trivial, certainly questionable, but perhaps to really experience what I said with the joke that closed the first article (and below I reproduce) it can be useful to go through a list of boring reflections , banal, questionable.
(It is obvious but necessary to say: I am perfectly aware that the list could be proposed in different ways and with different contents.)
What is Literature for? Perhaps we are able to truly understand it when we succeed in appreciating Oscar Wilde’s snobbishness and profound analysis: literature does not “serve” absolutely anything. If anything, I add, it’s all the rest that Literature needs, which for this very reason is so fascinating for us that we can’t do without it.
Analytical expression of the aims of the Literature (and of its study)
It is clear to me that the question on the “meaning” is addressed both to why the literature was produced and why in later times we study what others have done in very different contexts from their own. In other words, we must distinguish between the aims of the literature and the purpose of its study.
I start from the recognition of Aristotle that in delineating the characteristics of the tragedy he finds a place for the art of the word within the philosophical reflection.
The first major organic response in time is that of Horace: “Aut prodese volunt aut delectare poetae aut simul et iucunda et idonea dicere vitae”
Literature is an art, answering the question “what good is literature” is a part of the answer to the question “what is art for”.
Literature is art that is expressed through the word, understanding its function is to understand the function / functions that the word can take.
Literature is one of the forms in which man’s artistic desire is expressed in all the societies that have arrived at artistic elaboration and production.
Literature, like any art, is one of the ways in which man questions himself, his desires, his values, the meaning of existence, the sense of the world in which he lives.
Literature is for man to question himself about his humanity, is contiguous to all the disciplines that human beings use to analyze their world; in this direction it is necessary to understand the scope of the Ciceronian affirmation. “Omnes artes quae ad Humanitatem pertinent habent quoddam commune vinclum et cognatione quadam inter se continentur”.
Literature has as its main object man, describes man, investigates man, seeks the motivations for his choices and for many centuries has focused primarily on the definition of models to be proposed to all recipients of literary works.
Starting from the “delectare” of the Oratian affirmation, the Literature serves to entertain, to amuse, to make pleasant and the existence.
When the Literature expresses the values on which a society recognizes itself, when it is connected to the elaborations that have been defined “ideology”, “conception of the world”, system of values ”and so on, evaluating it and knowing it means knowing those systems of thought, reveal their strengths and weaknesses.
Literature aimed primarily at entertaining serves or can serve, in negative, to distance men from thinking about what is really important in their society. Hence, for example, the criticism of literature as a form of superstructure was born, the attack on the “consolatory” literature, the analysis of cases in which it proved to be a passive tool in the hands of power.
In the early stages of their existence as a community that has the awareness of existing, peoples have sought in literature one of the main ways of transmitting shared values.
From the previous point comes the famous joke of the pre-Platonic Greek world: “The poets know all things”.
Knowing the Literature of a people is often one of the most in-depth ways of knowing their thought, customs, values and values.
Literature, for example of Athens in the fifth century BC, was one of the privileged tools with which men investigated themselves; to know it is to have a fundamental point of view on the questions that men have about the meaning of life and death, about the sense of community, about what is right or wrong, moral or immoral.
The knowledge of Literature is in many cases connectable to that of Philosophy, above all as regards the questions reported in the previous point.
It is also necessary to attribute a philosophical value to the study of literature. It is aesthetics that in the philosophical field studies art in general and literature in particular
Knowing the profound structure of a literary work, especially of a great literary work, means learning to grasp a network of relationships, reflections, intellectual constructions. Proceeding along this line constitutes an excellent instrument of intervention to understand the complexity and the systemic character of cultural phenomena.
The great literary works show a plurality of story plans, themes, correspondences, intrinsic aims, reflections on the past, the present, the future. Entering this network of relationships can be compared to understanding a computer’s operating system.
Learning about Literature means learning the pleasure of the story, the pleasure of transmitting stories and history.
Teaching people to know Literature means teaching them to listen, to repeat, to communicate, to use the word. Literature is a profoundly social art.
The word used in literature is mainly but not exclusively the one defined by Jakobson as “poetic function of language”. Studying literature means better understanding linguistic communication, realizing the ways in which human beings, in all moments of life, use the word and therefore also the “poetic function of language”.
Studying literature must also serve to distinguish the cases in which its production and its use have constituted a step forward for human society and those in which they have been the effect of negative or fleeting needs.
The good and the bad, the beautiful and the bad Literature exist and existed, as is obvious. His study makes us understand that these value judgments can be historicized and therefore not absolute and immutable. Nevertheless, every era has sought a “canon” of literary works whose knowledge was fundamental.
The “canon” is transmitted with culture, with history, with the values that accompany human society. However, the partial changeability of the canon did not prevent a substantial convergence of judgment on the importance and beauty of some very great works.
The pleasure that can come from the literary text is independent of the importance of his study. Understanding why this pleasure is determined is very important but not always easily definable, especially when the text speaks of a world far away in time and space. If the pleasure of reading is independent of the proximity of its object, it means that in the whole of Literature we can identify constants that allow us to feel as our something that apparently does not concern us.
The search for these constants has been seen, above all by the idealist philosophy, as the ability of literature and art to investigate what is universal in all that concerns man. The great literature knows to leave out of the contingent to reach this universal element.
Literature (like any art) is therefore a form of knowledge; often this knowledge was defined as intuitive because we felt the need to distinguish it from rational knowledge.
Art and Literature have always been one of the ways in which human societies have been characterized. Knowing Literature is one of the chapters of knowledge of History in a broad sense.
Knowing the literature of a people opens a great window on the history of that people.
In the study of recent literature one must be able to re-tie its themes and forms to the tradition that preceded it, to understand the sense of continuity and to understand the moments of innovation and breaking. Understanding the sense of tradition, of innovation, of rupture.
Investigating forms, structure, function, meaning, the value of literary works, in other words penetrating the field that in general terms can be defined as that of “literary criticism”, is one of the privileged ways to understand the mechanisms based on to which men wonder about their history, their culture, the works of their genius.
Reflecting in school on the multiplicity of ways of looking at works of art and the meanings of literature is one of the privileged ways to learn to question, to compare, to deepen, to acquire an autonomy of judgment, not only when it comes to literature.
Reading and studying Literature allow us to improve our sensibility as they each face the inquiry that is the fruit of the sensitivity of the artists.
Synthetic expression of the aims of the Literature (and its study)
Literature is a form of art that is based on language and in a privileged way on what Jakobson has called “the poetic function of language”.
Literature has served man to express all the needs of his own humanity.
The Orazian definition according to which “aut prodese volunt aut delectare poetae”, depending on whether one or the other element is prevalent, serves to specify the function of each literary work.
The study of literature, especially in all school curricula where there is a discreet presence of the “Human Sciences”, is an essential part of the study that leads to the knowledge and understanding of culture in all its components.
Investigating the plurality of the meanings of a literary work means learning the plurality of ways of approaching art, if in this process the autonomous reflection of those approaching the Literature intervenes, this allows to enhance the capacity for judgment and intellectual initiative and human in general.
In all the cases in which the “Delectare” of Orazio is prevalent, literature makes us experience the pleasure that can be defined as “aesthetic” and which is an essential component of the fruition of each work of art.
The study of literature serves to significantly refine all communication techniques and improve the ability to understand the ways of communication.