Quotes on the Power of Literature

Prepared as background reading for the seminar:

"Literature in Times of Division"

Featuring Anita Patterson, Professor of English, Boston University
Hosted by the Ikeda Center, April 12, 2017

From Anita Patterson

“Life in these times is so stressful and uncertain; rethinking the meaning of success is perhaps the hardest but most important lesson of all. Without a sense of our doing anything meaningful, without affirmation of success in this truest sense of the word, we will just give up, resigning ourselves to what Thoreau called lives of “quiet desperation." Like all of us, students need to develop a worldview that will help them look beyond shallow measures of success, and thus protect their dignity and self-worth from the incessant, potentially crushing bombardments of daily life. Learning to read well is a step towards having the confidence, independence, and spiritual means they will need to accomplish the new, original plan for living they have invented for themselves.” (“True Books in a True Spirit”)

“Showing students a path to community and tradition through their acts of reading helps them to overcome their sense of isolation, and to find vast reserves of wisdom accumulated by past generations. Endowed with this new and precious sense of history, they find comfort in the knowledge that the troubles they face today have been – as Thoreau’s mentor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted to himself in his journal – pondered and recorded in books already on the shelf:  ‘Literature has been before us, wherever we go.’” (“True Books in a True Spirit”)

From Daisaku Ikeda

“Reading is a dialogue with oneself; it is self-reflection, which cultivates profound humanity. Reading is therefore essential to our development. It expands and enriches the personality like a seed that germinates after a long time and sends forth many blossom-laden branches.

People who can say of a book, 'this changed my life' truly understand the meaning of happiness. Reading that sparks inner revolution is desperately needed to escape drowning in the rapidly advancing information society. Reading is more than intellectual ornamentation; it is a battle for the establishment of the self, a ceaseless challenge that keeps us young and vigorous.” (Buddhism Day by Day: Wisdom for Modern Living)

“Education gives rise to the actions and activities that shape the direction of society over time.  Education for global citizenship, in particular, can provide the conditioning context (relation) that enables people to reframe events, wherever they may occur, through a shared human perspective, and to foster action and solidarity.  It can encourage people to consider global issues in terms of their own lives and lifestyles, thus bringing forth the inner capacities we each possess.” (“The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering in a New Era of Hope”)

“Literature is the very pulse of life.  Those who have learned to appreciate great literature during their youth are always vital and vigorous, because the pulse of literature beats within them.  Those who haven’t learned such an appreciation lack that vitality; their lives are spiritually drab and empty…Reading literature allows us to view the incredible kaleidoscope of human behavior and emotion.  It also gives us an insight into the vast, deep ocean of life existing beneath the countless rolling waves.” ("Discussions on Youth")

From Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the fire, being cold: no! but I am at first apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life….  And what a future it opens! I feel a new heart beating with the love of the new beauty. I am ready to die out of nature, and be born again into this new yet unapproachable America I have found in the West.” (“Experience”)

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.  In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” (“Self-Reliance”)

“The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end.” (“Circles”)

“The millions, that around us are rushing into life, cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests….  It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we derive from the best books…..  There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had wellnigh thought and said. But for the evidence thence afforded to the philosophical doctrine of the identity of all minds, we should suppose some preestablished harmony, some foresight of souls that were to be, and some preparation of stores for their future wants, like the fact observed in insects, who lay up food before death for the young grub they shall never see.” (“The American Scholar”)

From W.E.B. Dubois 

“Training for life teaches living…but what training for the profitable living together of black men and white?  Here, amid a wide desert of caste and proscription, amid the heart-hurting slights and jars and vagaries of a deep race-dislike, lies this green oasis,…  Why not here, and perhaps elsewhere, plant deeply and for all time centers of learning and living, colleges that yearly would send into the life of the South a few white men and a few black men of broad culture, catholic tolerance, and trained ability, joining their hands to other hands, and giving to this squabble of the Races a decent and dignified peace?” (The Souls of Black Folk)



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