The Role of Literature in a Liberal Education

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Let me just start out, then, by stating my thesis baldly: poetry is â if not the most important element in a liberal education, at least one of the two most important constituents, sharing the honors with its traditional running mate, philosophy, which, I would say, however, is more sophisticated and less basic. Poetry (what we now call literature and underestimate by considering it primarily printed material in a book (with an emphasis on the high elitism of 19th century British writing) is the foundation, the base, the hallmark of liberal education. Its aim is not the corroboration of things we already know but the uncovering of what has been hidden. Its mode of expression is not syllogism and analysis, but on one hand image and metaphor, analogy and symbol, on the other tonality, the hidden resonances of language. Its effort is toward something as precise in its own way as the most careful intellectual analysis. It makes use of a kind of language that calls up the language of the soul, which needs, however, to be clarified and strengthened by education. It works by a faculty that has at various times been designated as imagination, the intercessor between sense and intellect.

Arts and Humanities, Education, English Language and Literature, Louise Cowan, Education, Hillsdale, Literature, Poetic Imagination