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Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Bring Back The Myth Kitty!

In what must surely be one of his last radiophonic interventions, before retiring soon, the greatest Poet Laureate of the last fifty years (and beyond), Andrew Motion, has been at it again, today on the BBC, arguing for a need to study The Bible, for its "great stories" - in order to appreciate "Western Literature".

This is Descartes before the horse, surely. Western Literature once was designed to help appreciate The Bible. More to the point, as someone who believes that some of The Bible is "true", I must wonder at how much can be gained from merely cherry-picking the exciting bits (and there are a lot).

Turning to a major Holy document to find adventure tales is like recommending Playboy for the articles on Existentialism - they're there, but not really the crux. I think Motion, a self-described atheist, is sensing a truth, though - people coming to university to study "literature" are now, often, culturally illiterate. Reading, itself once the bottom line of studying English, is now secondary to - what? Well, reading for many is boring, and something they don't do.

I am not sure that parachuting Bible studies into such a mob would help much. It might be better to start them on Twain or Hemingway. Nor is it the case that all literature requires The Bible - or even Myth - to be appreciated. Larkin is a case in point. He eschewed most of the infamous "myth-kitty" and managed to generate remarkable poems that - while gesturing sometimes at transcendence - find their horizon in the bleak and present now of particularity, observed through horn-rimmed specs.

Do I want more students to read more of The Bible? Yes, I do. Will that arrest the massive decline in the interest in poetry and literature among the young? I doubt it.
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