Have you ever wondered why people read literature? Or maybe you know why, but feel yourself unequal to the task of understanding it yourself or teaching it to your students? You're not alone! Here at CenterForLit, we believe that no one is equal to taking up the Great Books on their own. And yet even without a literary degree, you are more than capable of entering into the Great Conversation. Good reading is fostered best in a community, which is why our entire approach to literature is founded on discussion and an exchange of ideas.
We firmly believe here that words have meaning. Literature itself is the record of an exchange of ideas within a tradition– this is what we call the "Great Conversation." The best authors are talking to each other across history. They are heirs to their predecessors, and converse with them in an attempt to come to the truest articulation of human experience. Great stories are a mystery and a wonder, which is why we avoid picking them apart through worksheets or comprehension quizzes, but that does not mean that authors are not communicating to us through the whole of their work, each element of fiction working together to grant us an experience that will widen our horizons if we're willing to surrender to the journey. Literature works through the heart----
We do not look for morals or sermons in literature. We do not talk over the author by giving our own opinions before we have allowed the story to speak. Instead, we listen and attempt to understand what the author wishes to tell us. We call what the author communicates "themes." They are truths about man's experience in the world that resonate with our own experience and show us we are not alone in our joys and in our sufferings. Themes show us who we are, and even if we do not agree we must listen first. Just as we would not respond to a friend before we have finished listening to what they have to say, we must first listen to the author. This kind of reading cultivates compassion. The Great Conversation is successful when we see our neighbors with empathy, instead of the rough narrow-mindedness that comes with a lack of understanding. Sometimes the Conversation may even change our minds. Humility is required for good reading.