Cracking a Closed System

snowglobeWhen you talk about literary study, a two-word phrase tends to surface: “closed system.” (See this archive). The speaker points out that scholarship in the humanities is a closed world, with academic idioms, academic questions, and academic parochialism.

Teachers trying to prevent digital technology from destroying the ability to think deeply need literature to be relevant. Those who pass through life without reading a book need good reasons why it is worth their time.

I believe it is our turn, the literati, to think deeply about why and how we study literature.

Considering languages, history, philosophy, literature, and fine arts used to be a corequisite with civic participation because both were limited to the gentry, those with leisure time. It was a privilege. Engaging the “big ideas” of civilization broadened the mind and was thought to produce wisdom – here’s the significant point – that could be used for the benefit of the whole society. 

Is it right, then, for literary study to be a closed system?

Is it inevitable?  

Before creating another blogosphere, in which quantity renders everything common, burying the exceptional among the mundane, we should consider a few more questions. What has been lost in other systems that became more open? What has been gained?

And at last, how do you go about cracking a closed system? 

These are some of the questions I plan to consider in the next few weeks. I hope you will pass along your ideas as well.


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