The extra-academic objective of the study of letters is to follow the production of knowledge in the social sciences. Since literature is supposed to have charms that are often hard not to sway, it is necessary to check whether someone is using “narratives” to mask their ulterior motives with stunning rhetoric and arguments.
General but sensitive readers are sure to delve into the fantastical world that influential writers create, but only the sincere, before whom the worlds of words and all that is associated with them are laid bare, can see through the end beautiful language brocade. Besides reading for pleasure which may derive from the pure aesthetic aspects of literature, the task of a literary critic/amateur is to engage in a kind of textual harassment; read a text against itself; unpaging the politics, if there is one, of representation; hold a piece of literature “responsible” since it is likely to be read by the multitude.
Therefore, a literary work cannot be disseminated simply because it wants to. If it’s ‘out’, it’s ‘in’ a reality that is always vulnerable to manipulation. The task of those who see literature as part of culture and larger practical and political mechanisms is to isolate them and write/talk about them as extensively and critically as possible.
All of these develop a habit – a habit that we carry into our classrooms and into our homes as well. The ultimate goal of the study of literature is not only to seek in books the pleasure of understanding and to continue to shout eureka in seminars and symposia after each “discovery”, but through this precisely, to prepare us to realize that the reality beyond realism in literature is what we have to train for; is what requires our evaluative attention.
Literature is therefore only training, and writers, critics and scholars are the trainers who are supposed not to dictate attention but to oversee it. We gain new insight when the training is over, and we learn to appreciate, detect and, if necessary, expose. Interpretation no longer remains just a fun thing to do but becomes a social necessity. From this social necessity arises the question of “films” which influence our lives today perhaps more vigorously than literature can ever hope to do.
One of the most modern ways of experiencing reality is to watch movies, or anything that’s been filmed. Modern humans are primarily influenced by this relatively new mode of expression due to their reliance on the “machine” and their fetish for anything fast – food, internet, vehicle, etc. It is more for convenience than by this disposition that we have. developed in us that wants things to be “delivered”, as quickly as possible.
We react with such enthusiasm that we often suffer from this illusion of genuine and active concern when in fact we are vigorously passive, soaked in the torrent of codes that look, sound and feel like natural phenomena that are part of our lives. We are in the age of consumption and we have trained ourselves, again passively, to consume anything and everything, not realizing that certain foods must be “tested” first. The result is a horde of opinions, shaped by our exposure to powerful representations that don’t even need to knock before entering our vulnerable system. We want to be swayed, we want to be “motivated,” and more than anything, we need the “wow factor” because our brain’s taste buds are dulled by the deluge of pungent entertainment.
Lately, we’ve felt a strange kind of satisfaction calling ourselves the “digital generation.” The tag needs to be fixed. We are a generation of consumers living in the digital age, where people are content to consume, often thoughtlessly and without creativity, the almost endless collection of cultural artifacts. For some, life has become more about images and emojis than ideas and emotions. And the things that fuel our brains the most are colors in motion, taking us away from the gray space and into the layered artificiality that stuns our senses. Thus, sitting in our armchair, we feel more alive watching the lives of on-screen characters who are not real. We laugh with them, cry with them and sometimes we feel like we can die with them.
We brought the cinema into our house, without thinking for once where the hell went the projector! If cinema is the modern version of Plato’s cave where, for a moment, people believe what they see in front of them, then how can we call our own clean and well-lit houses where we perform the exercises of reality ?
Previously, literature was part of the school curriculum because it reflected life and all its nuances. Moreover, people had the time and the inclination to read because, to some extent, it was the only source of information and entertainment. But with the growing popularity of popular media, I believe it is time to integrate “film studies” into the curricula of our literature departments. Many foreign universities, especially American ones, successfully organize “film studies” programs. Imagine a discussion with students in the language they understand best and enjoy the most.
If checking, critiquing and revising literature are the tasks of a student/teacher of literature, then for the same reason, using similar methods, we should start talking about films. If giving students insight into reality through a critical scope is our primary concern, then incorporating film studies into regular literature studies is a must. It’s modern, it’s interesting, it’s relatable, it’s thought-provoking and what’s more important is that it communicates in the language of the learners.
To control the spread of subversive ideas, the books had to be taken to the academic laboratory. But as of today, “most” people are consuming more movies and TV shows and adjusting their view of the world based on the stories and their “representations”. Besides literature, it has become imperative to also take them seriously, to appreciate their merits and to criticize anything that is “politically” problematic.
Hisham M Nazer is Assistant Professor of English at Varendra University.