Literature, now more than ever, by David Ulin in the LA Times (the article is limited to registered members, but you can get registration login info at BugMeNot.com, a great resource for free passwords to registration-only sites. They offer this one up for the LA Times: email: firstname.lastname@example.org, password: dailykos. DailyKos.com is a great site in its own right!)
Ulin interviews Jane Smiley (on the occasion of her new book, 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel, which I am excited to read):
"We don't connect with literature in the intellect," Smiley says. "We connect to it where we attach to dogs or boyfriends — at the deeper level of the self. The desire we have for long narrative forms is intrinsic; it's a natural human thing. A lot of people worry about the future of the novel, but I don't. It's a part of who we are."
The novel, even when I question it, is definitely a large part of who I am. I feel so lucky to be able to read novels, to be able to write them, to be able to learn from them.
The New York Times review of Helen Vendler's new book, Invisible Listeners, also affirms the relevance of literature, and literary criticism. And the review even mentions Whitman!
Anyone who has felt himself directly addressed by Whitman in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," as if the poet were present on the page and looking at us, will know what Vendler means by "intimacy" and be grateful to her for describing the sensation. That is one thing a critic can do for us - verbalize our experience of great writing. It doesn't undo the effect, but deepens it, as when Vendler explains how Whitman brings "his future surrogates" - that is, us, his readers - into existence by imagining our future moment in the present tense, and casting his own present in the past: "Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt, / Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd, / Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh'd."
I love the thought of us being "future surrogates" of Whitman. I am refresh'd by the gladness of his words.