A World Where Everyone Reads

Last night, my advisor asked, at a talk I attended, whether one could imagine a world without literature. He said, to roughly paraphrase, if some people can imagine such a world, then maybe they should have a planet of their own, while everyone who needs literature should be on another planet. He explained that while it would be unrealistic, and in fact undesired (for it would lead to chaos), for everyone to be fully engaged with literature, cultured people, like doctors and lawyers, rely on critics to single out from the mass of books those that are worth reading and are thus able to enter in on the discussion. And (if I understood correctly) he said that while one cannot make people think or feel, there needs to be that literary outlet for those who do. It is also in books that authors ask questions about the world, and engage in analytical thinking. He cannot imagine what the literature of today would look like if it were only based on the workings of media and the mainstream.
This reminds me of Emerson's The Conduct of Life. "The saint and poet seek privacy to ends the most public and universal: and it is the secret of culture, to interest the man more in his public than in his private quality." Emerson goes on to explain that the poet must not be vain and only produce poems that he things the critic will praise, but must write what he must, and "side with the critic" and accept whatever criticism there be. There must be a private side to good literature.
Of course, finding the golden mean is a true challenge. I think that even blogging, while I would personally refrain from calling it literary, has this trouble. But if the blogging is vaguely analytical, if it addresses real problems (as in, something to be solved), real feelings, then I would say it is contributing to society - as literature does.
All of this to say that there are people who do not read. I received an email from one of my students explaining that even she is reluctant to read, and even more reluctant to engage in critical thinking. At this point, I think, forget the reading!: it should be everyone's priority to think and feel for themselves, and observation, not reading, is the root of this activity. And yet, as honest and more senior educators point out, it is unrealistic to expect people to want to think and feel. And maybe what my advisor meant last night, that chaos would ensue if everyone read to the same degree, is that there would be no further exchange:
Therefore the good man is the instructor of the bad man, and the bad man is the good man's wealth.
He who does not esteem his instructors or value his wealth, though he be otherwise intelligent,
becomes otherwise confused. This is called the essential and the secret.
 Elements: pugly pixel; Parasol

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