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Value of Literary Studies

Literature is a body of written works, wherein the name is often applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the excellence of their execution. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter. The current meaning generally attached to the term literature–a body of writing by a people or by peoples using the same language is a relatively modern one.

The term itself, derived from the Latin word littera (“letter of the alphabet”; litterae, “letters”), is ancient enough; but in ancient times literature tended to be considered separately in terms of kinds of writing, or genres as they came to be called in the 18th century when the term literature took on its modern meaning. In preliterate societies oral literature was widely shared; it saturated the society and was as much a part of living as food, clothing, shelter, or religion. In barbaric societies, the minstrel might be a courtier of the king or chieftain, and the poet who composed liturgies might be a priest.

But the oral performance itself was accessible to the whole community. As society evolved its various social layers, or classes, an “elite” literature began to be distinguishable from the “folk” literature of the people. With the invention of writing this separation was accelerated until finally literature was being experienced individually by the elite (reading a book), while folklore and folk song were experienced orally and more or less collectively by the illiterate common people.

From this alone, it is already evident that a class-divided society did exist during those times, in the context of Eagleton’s observations of literature as an ideology. For me, Literature brought about some semblance of order in the midst of possible chaos, which was starting to ensue between the working class (masses) and the dominant elite class, by impressing on them some sense of decency and civility, and thus pacifying them in the process so as they would not rise in arms and engage in a disruptive and violent political revolution against the dominant class.

I think that somehow, through the use of literature, the masses in a way emulated the dominant elite class of their decency, refinement, and culture since it was the latter’s kind of literature in the first place. As a consequence of that, the masses didn’t find the need to rise in arms nor to engage in a violent revolution against the elite anymore. Again, it was because of the influence brought about by literature, which in turn brought some sense of decency into the minds of the masses. And to some extent, the masses were not able to resort to a violent uprising anymore.

And also plus the fact that majority of the masses were illiterate if not uneducated to start with, which explains their, in a way, irrational, impulsive, and somewhat “barbaric” behaviour, which would have pushed them to rise up against their masters and engage them in a violent and bloody revolution. Literature then turned out to be the pacifier of the working class. That once they got hooked to the elite’s kind of literature, they somehow realized that a gory revolution was not the solution to their woes and that there were other ways and means to which they can fight for their rights as human beings.

And from the way I understand the text of Eagleton, he is saying that the best way to get to the masses, the best way to prevent the masses from rising up in arms is to get first to the middle class. Arnold recognized this urgency to ‘Hellenize’ or cultivate the middle class during that time by means of exposing them and transfusing into them something of the traditional style of aristocracy, who are already ceasing to be the dominant class of England during that time according to Arnold, so that they will feel that they are not left out, so that they will feel that they are part of the whole system.

And the beauty of this strategy is seen in the effect and impact it will have in controlling and incorporating the working class into the whole system. So the middle class had the task of moulding and assimilating the masses, who are directly below them, and should win the masses’ sympathy or guide them their direction, because if they can’t and fail, society then is in danger of falling into chaos, mayhem, and rebellion. The task of literature then, is to somehow convince and persuade the masses to acknowledge that more than one viewpoint, other than theirs existed – namely, that of their masters.

This means that literature is trying to make the masses see and realize that there is more than one course of action for them to take, that a bloody revolution is not the only answer. There was a need at that time, according to Eagleton, to communicate in the masses the moral riches of bourgeois civilization and impress upon them a reverence for middle-class achievements. And since reading is an essentially solitary, contemplative activity, literature then would restrain the masses into entering any disruptive tendency to collective political action.

In this sense, literature now was starting to be seen as a suitable candidate for an ideological enterprise because of its liberal and humanizing pursuit, which could provide a potent antidote to political bigotry and ideological extremism. And also to some extent, literature was also seen as a religion because they both work primarily by emotion and experience. Bottomline here is that literature was used to hold the society together so it would not fall apart and break down into pieces.

Literature was used as some kind of a diversionary tactic used to distract the masses from their immediate commitments, nurturing in them a spirit of tolerance and generosity. Basically, this was all about avoiding any political instability and pandemonium, wherein literature was used as an instrument for this objective. And for me, this was how literature functioned in a class-divided society. Literature is a product of life and about life. Literature gives order to our human experiences, explores cultural values, and demands emotional response from the reader.

Literature is like a great journey, wherein it can show us things that we’ve never seen before and in the process, we will never forget. And for people like me, who’s a part of a Filipino university like the Ateneo, I see literature as a rich background from which to learn vocabulary, to accumulate knowledge about written language, develop literary and literacy skills, and deepen my sensibilities. That aside from being just concerned with petty and trivial matters like boy-girl relationships, socialization, clothes, etc. which is very much the case among students in the Ateneo, literature helps us carry away something of value – an understanding, a new awareness, a feeling of pleasure about life. In a very real sense, life illuminates literature just as much as literature illuminates life. Literature helps us see the beauty in things but at the same time grounds us from reality. One may think that literature does not have a use anymore in this workaday world, where we mostly concern ourselves with banal matters and tend to forget about more important things about life and nature.

Literature offers us with rich human experiences of life and nature through which we can relate to with our own personal experiences. Literature serves as a model of humanistic values, principles, and ideals, which makes available an atmosphere conducive to the richest exchange of feelings and ideas. Literature gives a “slice of life” to instruct or to entertain or even to disturb us and to make us feel and to make us think.

And in this commonplace world that we live in, we normally just content ourselves to live on a steady diet of cold facts, where we should be feeling and longing for the human and the personal with vivid, concrete and humanizing particulars. Literature are bits and pieces of truth and beauty snatched from the flux of life to delight and comfort us, and since being exposed to and engaging in literature is a contemplative activity, it helps us reflect and think about certain issues of life and nature, to the point that it makes us discover our truly and genuine prismatic humanity.

And I believe that literature is very important in Filipino university like the Ateneo because literature grounds us to that basic rootedness in our culture and humanity. That just as much as mundane concerns are important to us, the values that literatures teaches and the realizations that it makes us see are of equal importance too, that is why we should not take literature for granted and deem it to be just another burden. In appreciating literature, we appreciate life itself with all its beauty and splendour, with all its wonders and mysteries that we can only learn by valuing literature.

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