These are challenging days for those who teach literature and for those who study it. The old jusifications don’t seem terribly relevant and the new directions are clouded and unclear.
We used to say that we should study literature because it made us more human, because it taught us about past lives and, if we thought long and hard about our texts, because it could show us how we might live our lives. The 20th century confronted us with individuals who, knowing the best literature and knowing the best art, did such memorable destruction to body and soul that they will never be forgotten or forgiven.
The future seems to promise much — learning with many media, ubiquitous textualities with wonderous content, knowledge stored, archived, and available at the slightest touch, art once only available to the few now everywhere visible — but we suspect there is more technique than content, more knowledge than wisdom.
What, then, are we to believe, what goodness to search for, what connections should we make?
The Literature faculty at Stockton University continue to believe and to exemplify in our classrooms, the proposition that we can have both the past and the future. We sense that what is happening to texts and textualities is deeply important, that something profoundly new and exciting is occurring; but we also sense that living in that future will be a small and petty thing without clear connections to past lives. This is not the first time that humans have confronted incredible change and, at the same time, had their past values threatened and mocked. It will not be the last.
We realize that out of these questions can come profound answers, that out of present doubts can come certainties, that out of profound change can arise profound insights.
Our mission, then, is to continue to insist that those lives so exposed in past writings are essential to a full understanding of our existence. At the same time, we believe that studying literature is a means to prepare us for the future that is sweeping down on us.