Despair has become a commonplace in publications aimed at the liberally educated reader: the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the rise of university science and technology departments to the great loss of literature and the other liberal arts. Many of these efforts to defend the humanities respond to the incursions of STEM fields by attempting to vie on the same pragmatic plane: literature teaches the skills of clear writing and close reading, this argument goes, or the ability to communicate, or the creativity necessary to see beyond the walls of the cubicle’s box.
But there’s a value, too, in what literature gives us that has nothing to do with employment skills, and Memphis native Arnold Weinstein made a persuasive case for it recently in The New York Times: “We enter the bookstore, see the many volumes arrayed there, and think: so much to read, so little time,” he writes. “But books do not take time; they give time, they expand our resources of both heart and mind. It may sound paradoxical, but they are, in the last analysis, scientific, for they trace the far-flung route by which we come to understand our world and ourselves. They take our measure. And we are never through discovering who we are.”
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