Studies show books are good for you.

Who are these people talking about the death of the humanities? No one I know is talking about this. Everyone I hang around with wouldn’t want to be alive if it weren’t for things like art, film, music, and literature. Anyway, according to the article “Next Big Thing in English” in the Times, a lot of people are very concerned with the death of humanities, but science has redeemed literature! Thank goodness. Gosh, we’re so lucky (note tone of sarcasm). Why does science, or more specifically psychology, have to come along to validate the importance of literature? Do we really need scientists to tell us that studies show literature activates parts of the brain that give us a greater understanding of the human condition? In case you were wondering…

…science not only offers unexpected insights into individual texts, but that it may help to answer fundamental questions about literature’s very existence: Why do we read fiction? Why do we care so passionately about nonexistent characters? What underlying mental processes are activated when we read?

I guess if English departments can get more funding through interdisciplinary projects that merge literature and psychology, then it can’t be all bad. However, this reminds me of something Tim O’Brien said when I heard him speak at the downtown library. I forget what prompted his comments, but he said when writers explain too much, boredom follows. To undo mystery is to undo good storytelling. Fiction shouldn’t explain; let the scientists understand and explain and offer solutions. I wonder; if science explains to us why exactly we enjoy good books, will this ruin for us? I don’t think so.

UPDATE: A panel of academics responds to this article in “Can ‘Neuro Lit Crit’ Save the Humanities?”

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~ by Valerie Palmer on April 3, 2010.

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