Excellent thoughts here. Adds further strength to my conviction that we need to be teaching lit well in high school (and earlier!) Includes some helpful ideas on how.
Students are interested in profit and therefore care only about pre-professional degrees. Another answer popular among literature professors is that students spend so much time on Twitter that they have the attention span of a pithed frog.
But can it really be that students are more materialistic now than in those proverbial eras of backwardness, the 1950s and 1980s? And why did those Twitterized adolescents once immerse themselves in seven volumes of Harry Potter?
Could it be that the problem lies not with the students but with the professors themselves?
It is really quite remarkable what happens when reading a great novel: By identifying with a character, you learn from within what it feels like to be someone else. The great realist novelists, from Jane Austen on, developed a technique for letting readers eavesdrop on the very process of a character’s thoughts and feelings as they are experienced. Readers watch heroes and heroines in the never-ending process of justifying themselves, deceiving themselves, arguing with themselves. That is something you cannot watch in real life, where we see others only from the outside and have to infer inner states from their behavior. But we live with Anna Karenina from within for hundreds of pages, and so we get the feel of what it is to be her. And we also learn what it is like to be each of the people with whom she interacts. In a quarrel, we experience from within what each person is perceiving and thinking. How misunderstandings or unintentional insults happen becomes clear. This is a form of novelistic wisdom taught by nothing else quite so well.