This semester marked the debut of a new course in the Mondoville English program, a senior/capstone seminar. A colleague of mine was the professor of record, but at various points in the term, each of the others of us took a day to discuss whatever we wanted with the kids. One colleague discussed a favorite genre of writing; another made them read Milton’s Areopagitica, both because of its ideas and because they need to read hard things. And so on.
So when my turn rolled around last week — tail-end Charlie, as is my habit — I decided to talk about what comes next. I asked them to read two texts: Samuel Johnson’s Rambler 103 (“The Prevalence of Curiosity”), and Housman’s “The Chestnut Casts His Flambeaux.” The first was to encourage them to keep their minds alive and active when they leave Mondoville — and not to settle for gossip like Nugaculus (either immediate or as the product of celebrity culture). The second was to discuss what we do when the world collapses upon us and we must, like Housman’s people, shoulder the sky. Literature may teach, as Johnson does, or it may comfort, even if that comfort is grim, and merely the reminder that we can persevere.
My point Monday morning, and its one to which I return over and over, is that literature matters. People ask my students — and have asked me — “What are you going to do with that?” I’m going to live, and sometimes live better than I would have without what I have read.
And all this leads me to an essay by Rod Dreher. It’s called “How Dante Saved My Life,” and had I known about it Monday, I would have assigned it as well. Give it a read.
A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to the Gormogons.