Two non-answers

Let us suppose this to be a valid question:
“Why study literature?”

If the answer is “Because it’s literature,” that is tautological–no answer at all.

On the other hand, if the answer is “Because it’s this, that and the other,” that is incoherent–again, no answer.

If these are the only two answers we can give, it is very hard to see why there need to be literature departments.

Yet these are the two answers, in one version or another, that one hears from literary academics today.

Author: JD Fleming

I am Professor of English Literature at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. My work is in intellectual history of the early-modern period (1500-1700), with a special interest in epistemic issues around the emergence of modern natural science (the "Scientific Revolution"). In 2012, I initiated the international conference series "Scientiae: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern World."

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