Literature: Why It Matters, by Robert Eaglestone (review)


Is literature a worthy topic of study in an era fixated on science, technology, and information? This has become a subject of debate in recent years, especially as enrollment in college literature courses has declined. J. Hillis Miller has noted that “all who love literature are collectively anxious today about whether literature matters” (13), insisting that it does since it has “three essential human functions: social critique, the pleasure of the text, and allowing a materialization of the imaginary or an endless approach to the unapproachable imaginary” (31). Other literary scholars concur with Miller, though from differing perspectives, including Dennis J. Sumara in Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters (2002) and Mark William Roche in Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century (2004). In his recent monograph, Literature: Why It Matters, Robert Eaglestone joins this discussion, offering a timely and judiciously formulated manifesto in defense of literary studies that is groundbreaking in the way it treats literature as a living object whose study can inspire ongoing conversation. Eaglestone presents his argument in four segments: “What is Literature?” “Studying Literature,” “Why Does Literature Matter?” and “What Does Literature Teach?”

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