Irritably responded to a graduate student regurgitating the “Reading fiction makes you more empathetic…” justification today.
Me: “Literature is not, like you are saying, good because it is a means to some desirable end, literature is an end in itself. If I were on a desert island or in a prison cell, in the full knowledge of no further human contact, I would still wish to read books. To cultivate myself, not to serve the needs of others. I understand why certain individuals make your argument when they wish to connect with others outside the academy, but I am very disappointed to hear graduate students of literature uncritically presenting this argument to their peers, it’s ultimately a very uninspiring take on what we study and why we study it.”
A classmate from Malaysia was nodding his head, I asked if he was in agreement, he said yes.
Professor nodded and repeated, “Literature is an end in itself.”