Why I Blog

Johannes Vermeer, "A Lady Writing"

Johannes Vermeer, “A Lady Writing”

I’m using the occasion of the new year to summarize the intent of Better Living through Beowulf. I start with a reflection upon the process of blogging itself, blogging being such a strange enterprise.

From the start, I modeled myself on Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century Frenchman who, in his Pensées, wrote, “I am myself the matter of my book.” He said this while mixing together personal anecdote and philosophical reflection and I have tried to follow suit.

I was inexorably drawn to blogging because it seemed to be the only form capable of doing full justice to my subject, which is literature’s impact on life. There are so many ways in which literature and life interact that no single theory can do justice to them all. After all, sometimes literature moves history and sometimes it just makes our day go a little better. Sometimes liiterature rescues us when our life is turned upside down by personal tragedy and sometimes it entertains us when life seems dull. Whatever it does, however, when one attempts to systematize literature’s different effects, one discovers that there are any number of theoretical approaches one can turn to. For instance, there are numerous psychological theories, including Freudian, Jungian, cognitive developmental, and neurological. There are also sociological, anthropological, political, aesthetic, Marxist, conservative, religious, humanist, spiritual, feminist, colonialist, post-colonialist, queer, phenomenological, and existential approaches. To theorize about literature’s impact on readers, at various times in the course of this blog I have turned to Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Percy Shelley, Matthew Arnold, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, I. A. Richards, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Wolfgang Iser, Hans Robert Jauss, Stanley Fish, Jane Tompkins, Wayne Booth, Terry Eagleton, and a host of others. All have something to contribute but no one illuminates more than a tiny piece of the whole.

The blog form, luckily, has a place for all these different thinkers and all these different approaches. The drawback, of course, it that there isn’t one place readers can visit to see everything summed up—or even a series of essays which enumerate the range of possibilities. Instead, one depends on the vagaries of the blogger to introduce and explore different issues.

But I’m not setting myself up as a final resource, even if one were possible. Rather, by sharing my own stories, those of my students, and those of people, past and present, that I have read and heard about, I want you to start taking note of the role that literature plays in your own life. I can’t predict which of my posts will trigger your own thoughts so I try to provide a variety of subjects.

Ultimately, my hope is that you will cobble together your own constellation of what literature means. I also want you to have the confidence to assert that literature means something very important.

How do you know it does? Because it has stimulated you and moved you deeply. That’s where it all starts.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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