When literature as art is referred to as a humanistic discipline, its role as a definer of reality, knowledge, and truth is assumed. This is usually presented as a rationale for the study of literature.
The student, in search of a fundamental premise, must realize and accept that literature as art is simply an instrument which man may use to achieve the realization of his essence (where it is definer of reality, art can only succeed in bringing the appreciator closer to an awareness and comprehension of his circumstances; through this knowledge, he enables himself to cope with the demands of these appurtenances).
As far back as the classical antiquity (Aristotle, Plato, Horace, Longinus) to the confused contemporary times, what remains unsullied and unchallenged is art’s function of contributing to the formation of man’s essence (his rational nature). Classical literary tradition subscribed to this formative function that: “art is formative in the most valuable sense by assisting man to fulfill his own end. For man’s end is to complete himself: to carry out, to the fullest extent, what is best and most distinctive in him. And what is best in him as an aware creature, is the capacity to realize what is without, to profit and grow by means of this knowledge, and to react, and desire in accordance with the awareness that has informed him.” (W. J. Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts, pg. 6, Doubleday Anchor Books, Garden City, 1959)
Modern literary tradition, while shifting its mode of awareness from the illusive universal forms to concrete, particular realities, has never ceased to consider that man continues with his primordial activity of knowing and naming things through his art. If classical tradition gave premium on knowing through the conceptualization of universals, modern tradition emphasized the feelings as modes of cognition based on the senses, imagination, and intellectual interpretation.
All this is a synoptic hindsight – even a foresight – of how literary tradition has assumed that imaginative literature as a fine art is a way of knowing man and the complexus of his circumstances with the end in view of understanding himself, his final end and cause, and his ultimate destiny as a homo viator (man on a journey). In fact, the essential humanism of classical civilization is restated throughout the dialectical counterposition of moods and movements in art; viz., Classical art was anthropocentric, Romantic art was the point of departure for the use of the imagination and feelings as cognitive faculties (the German Einfuhlung of the Theory of Imagination is an example – the knowing of things through an empathetic participation of the appreciator in the suggestive form’s continuing creation: the appreciator becomes himself the artist as his imagination and feelings complete the form of the art work being perceived) to mention only a couple. (Bate, op cit)
Stretch this point to the most contemporary artistic mood, and one finds in Pop Art—which branches out from Dada – the artist’s attempt to extend his realm of celebration to life itself where art becomes life and vice versa; in brief, art is not simply knowing man’s life now, but it has also become one with life; hence, ars gratia homines.
What the foregoing discussion is hammering at is the cognitive function of art (in this case literature) where man comes to terms with realities through the concrete art forms as factotum of rational faculties.
Since art is one such instrument, the student will recognize that the process toward the achievement of observable meaning in the concrete form must be empirical. This proceeds from the premise that one comes closer to the knowledge of truth and reality when art is perceived in its concrete, particular, palpable form because it (art) is itself real, concrete, verifiable, and true. Therefore, appreciation, to be of service to the student as homo sapiens (knowing man), must be firmly based on its empirically articulated elements. Analysis as a method of appreciation is, forthwith, justified, since it is the one inductive method readily available to literature as an art which uses the linguistic medium (itself empirically observable).
When the study of literature is offered to the student as an instrument with which to achieve a self-aggrandizing human end (the realization of his rational essence and his potentialities of knowing), a motivation is established. It makes literature relevant to the needs of the student first as an individual.
The literature teacher must, therefore, address himself primarily to these needs before he plunges into the quagmire of political, social, moral purposes often inflicted on defenceless (because universally owned) literary works whose authors may not have been aware of such objectives ab initio (from the start).
What would these individual needs be?
(1) The student’s requirement of something to think of and feel about --- proper materials for his rational faculties;
(2) a verifiable basis for his cogitations – a work of art whose significance he may interpret without fear of essaying ludicrous irrelevancies. He may be able to determine the validity of his interpretation because he can prove its presence in the text or in the structural form;
(3) practical knowledge of how best he can satisfy his aesthetic attitude by reading literature; in other words, he could base his analysis (abstraction of meaning from recognized formal elements) on an accepted (because defensible) aesthetics and/or literary theory which he can defend when called upon to stand by its tenets;
(4) a system of critical values on which he might base his judgments. Since all appreciation will ultimately prove tangent or off-tangent to the formative function of art depending on what values are realized by the student from the literary work, the teacher should be able to define a reliable number of criteria by which literature may be evaluated. Values concerning man and his condition as a universal common denominator of art are not difficult to glean from Classical to Contemporary literary criticism;
(5) opportunity to cultivate a discriminating taste, preparatory to his evolving an evaluative system which is consistent to his aesthetic theory. Exposure to a wide variety of reading materials in all literary forms would bring this about, considering that intelligent criticism grows a posteriori from a liberal inspection of works applying as many literary theories.
There need not be any other extra personal purposes other than that defined in the foregoing. To the individual, these may simply be extraneous. On the other hand, other purposes may make the study more meaningful because of the introduction of other dimensions the student may be poorer without. What should probably be emphasized by the teacher is that the individual should be the first to benefit from this literary study; that he should be humanized to a generous extent; that the humaneness would, like the good, overflow. Bonum est diffusivum sui. This then, even before the student should think of using literature as an echo-chamber of current concepts like nationalism, imperialism, fascism, escapism, existentialism, Death-of-God-ism, ad infinitum.
The teacher’s responsibility in this order of things is significantly challenging, if herculean. It requires his adherence to a defensible (because explicable) aesthetics which will furnish the principles by which he may direct literary appreciation in class.
He should properly start with a workable concept of what appreciation means. This term is, after all, behind practically all the courses in a literature programme: in an analytical reading course for freshmen, lessons on analysis to reinforce comprehension are required by the activities peculiar to literary appreciation.
In a Literary Theory course, the aesthetic rationale of literary forms is closely studied so that appreciation would be properly focused on the elements articulated in the work of art during analysis. In the Literary Forms course, the works themselves as concretizations of human experiences and their various appurtenances are appreciated. In the Literary Criticism course, modes of appreciation are studied. In the National Literatures course (Ancient and Contemporary Philippine Literature, American Literature, British Literature, Asian Literature --- mainly Chinese, Japanese, and Indian, etc.), national expression of the human condition is appreciated. In the Comparative Literature course, the same mode of appreciation is harnessed with emphasis on the common denominator of literature's delineation of the human experience from various viewpoints. These are incontrovertible proofs that curricular arrangements in Literature programmes are pegged on the concept of appreciation.
What is appreciation? Perhaps, its definition will also include a delineation of the basic concepts of practical aesthetics for the literature teacher. Subsequent discussion provides explanation of these.
What readily sticks out as a unifying idea in the preceding discussion is the unequivocal advocacy of self-direction in literary appreciation. The student should be made to stand on his own toes. This is demanded by the personal nature of appreciation which each individual will eventually exercise exclusively -- without fear or favour. The literature teacher must, therefore, be equipped for this, if his appreciation of literature as a humanistic discipline should provide privately rewarding.
(Next: Part 2 ; What is Literary Appreciation?)
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