Undisciplinable literature – Potpourri – Brief Article

Undisciplinable literature – Potpourri – Brief Article – Excerpt

Harold Orlans

Isn’t there a certain basic antagonism between the very nature of a university and the very spirit of literature? The academic mind is cautious, tightly organized, faultfinding, competitive–and above all, aware of other academic minds. Think of the atmosphere of suspicion implied by the habit of fitting out the most trivial quotation with a reference, as though it were applying for a job. Think of the whole idea of regarding literature as a discipline. Literature can be strenuous or difficult or deeply disturbing; it can be a hundred things–but a discipline is not one of them. Discipline means compulsion, and an interest in literature thrives on spontaneity…; it is unlikely that a reader who comes to a book under duress, or…a sense of duty, will ever really read it at all, however much he may learn about it.

John Gross, The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters, 1969

Harold Orlans has conducted many studies of higher education and research policy for private and government bodies in Washington, D.C. He retains the copyright for this column.

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