Ian McDonald’s tireless voice calling for literature to be the cornerstone of Guy-ana’s education system again sounds a warning call to the leaders. In his column last Sunday, Dr McDonald threw out a challenge to the University of Guyana to raise its voice as well.
American literary critic Harold Bloom’s book called Genius attempted to analyze the life and works of 100 great writers whose writings have defined the human experience. In that book Bloom defined literary genius as, simply, originality of creation. Genius, greatness and originality become synonymous. And this greatness must have two values: the ability to stand the test of time and become timeless; and the ability to forever shine with the aesthetic quality, the appreciated beauty, that wrapped it in delight at its birth.
In this, no one stands above Gerard Manley Hopkins. He has created original beauty that acts on and changes space and time for anyone who studies his vibrant rhythms of words.
But having said all that, I must make one slightly critical comment about Ian McDonald’s thoughts.
Literature transcends aesthetics. I agree with Bloom that literary genius creates civilization. Literary creation invents original solutions to common human problems. The aesthetic clothing is but a nice decoration − as if truth must come as a beauty queen. But to passively see literature as appreciation of beauty is to fall into the school of guys like Oscar Wilde, and some others whom I don’t care for, including the Marquis de Sade. They all created aesthetic wonders. But what value beyond a passive appreciation for the beauty of thought have they contributed to human society?
If, as EO Wilson urges us, we as a civilization move inevitably towards a consilience of knowledge fields, and if literature is the most profound and truthful of those knowledge fields simply because it builds educated imaginations, as Northrop Frye would have us cultivate, then a life of literature should lead us to more than just criticism of appreciation.
Literature should prepare us to design original creations for the betterment of ourselves and our future. In our societies’ failing to achieve this purpose, I believe, lies the immense tragedy of our descent into the dark abyss of what one can call the 21st century’s global ‘illiterature’ culture.
Literature should be the bedrock of a society. It is not just a scholarly subject like others. Just as Maths and Science are foundational subjects for the administrative and industrializing functions in society, literature serves as the foundation for a thinking society − a society that must create original solutions for the myriad of human challenges that humankind battles. Literature is the toolbox that builds a noble human race, even overcoming dark human nature.
No society should allow anyone who did not receive a sound education in literature to qualify as a politician, a scientist, a teacher, a businessperson, an administrator, or to hold any position of responsibility. Because how else can such a person create an original solution without the literary foundation of our civilization?
These are the questions Al Creighton and the UG dons must deal with, as well as the Minister of Education. UG’s literature programme should be the backbone for the innovative, creative and solution-driven society to advance forward. All scientific innovation, technological originality, industrial creations and advance in the quality of life should grow out of a sound literature programme that touches and educates every citizen. A society thus trained for originality of thought and action becomes great. Sadly, this all sounds like wishing for utopia.
But Ian McDonald does us a great service to introduce into the national conversation these thoughts. I hope someone with some influence would act as he urges.
Shaun Michael Samaroo