Teaching Literature @ The MLA

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

At the Modern Language Association, one can find panels among the hundreds offered on just about anything, except language and traditional literature, ostensibly the reason for the group’s existence.

That’s why, in the program, the session on “Why Teach Literature?” stood out. It was a standout in the guide sandwiched between sessions on:

• “Animals in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century French Narratives: Distance and Closeness;” and
• “Eat Your Vegetables (before They Eat You!): Plants in Fiction and Culture.”

What made the panel memorable was the speaker added at the last minute. She pointed out that the study of literature is diluted when looked on as a gender study or just about any trendy academic exercise, an indictment of just about all of the MLA’s annual program not to mention virtually the entire canon of most college English departments.

As well, we noted that literature’s value lay not in exploring feelings but in showing that the emotions people experience are not new. “Feelings don’t just change from decade to decade,” Helen Vendler told the crowd at the MLA’s 2013 Boston conclave. “They change from Monday to Tuesday.”

“Remember, six of the seven deadly sins are feelings.” Vendler is a poetry critic from Harvard.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.