Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century

Mark William Roche

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November 10, 2004
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300104493

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Not just another jeremiad against prevailing isms and orthodoxies, Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century examines literature in its connection to virtue and moral excellence. The author is concerned with literature as the teacher of virtue. The current crisis in the humanities, Mark William Roche argues, may be traced back to the separation of art and morality. (“When the distinction between is and ought is leveled,” he writes, “the power of the professions increases.”)
The arts and humanities concern themselves with the fate and prospects of humankind. Today that fate and those prospects are under the increasing influence of technology. In a technological age, literature gains in importance precisely to the extent that our sense of intrinsic value is lost. In its elevation of play and inexhaustible meaning, literature offers a counterbalance to reason and efficiency. It helps us grasp the ways in which diverse parts form a comprehensive and complex whole, and it connects us with other ages and cultures. Not least, great literature grapples with the ethical challenges of the day.

Mark William Roche is I. A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C. Professor of German Language and Literature, and Concurrent Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame.

“Roche brings a surprisingly nuanced argument to bear on the subject of literature’s relationship to ethics, and he supports that argument with a dazzling variety of examples drawn from a lifetime studying the twin disciplines of philosophy and German literature and from art history and English literature. . . . Essential.”—Choice

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2006 by Choice Magazine