Inside HigherEd, a popular and respected website that focuses upon issues in postsecondary education, features an excerpt from a recent book by two GW English Department faculty.
Jennifer Green-Lewis and Margaret Soltan’s Teaching Beauty in DeLillo, Woolf, and Merrill was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book argues for the return of aesthetics to the literature classroom. As you will see from the piece at Inside HigherEd, the volume is at once eloquently written and trenchant. A short excerpt follows; the link will take you to the rest.
When his turn came to speak at Norman Mailer’s recent memorial service in New York, the novelist Don DeLillo began by simply holding up his creased and worn 50-year-old copy of Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead.
All lovers of literature understand the nature of DeLillo’s gesture; they understand that behind the little paperback that he lifted for the audience to see lay years of private aesthetic pleasure in its pages — from the college student marveling at its prose to the venerated author of Underworld marveling at the same thumbed passages. That’s the sort of writer Mailer was, DeLillo meant to say: He wrote novels you’re never finished with; and the scuffs and scratches and stains you put in them over the years add up to the archaeology of your own literary life.
Alexander Nehamas says that beauty of any kind is “a call to look more attentively.” Readers of poetry, lovers of music, gardeners gardening — all people who engage actively with beauty by paying close and lasting attention to it know this to be true. Yet because, in recent decades, we have misperceived the value of beauty, literary scholars have neglected the crucial work of thinking through our relationship with beautiful forms, and have failed to teach our students about the way that relationship sustains and enlightens us…