Loading…

The Clean Sea Breeze of the Centuries: Literary Experience as Perspective on Culture

sea and beach

One of the primary benefits of reading literature is that it allows us to inhabit another person’s experiences, to see the world through other eyes and to perceive it with other minds, and in so doing, broaden our own limited experience of the world. In particular, C. S. Lewis says that in reading “old books,” we can temporarily view our own culture from outside its assumptions and blind spots. In literary experience, especially the experience of “old books,” we have the powerful and rare opportunity to gain an outside perspective on our own contemporary culture, and so to know it and ourselves more fully. The purpose of this session is to model and discuss the benefits of opening the first day of a humanities class with an excerpt of Lewis’s essay, “On the Reading of Old Books,” in order to give students an elevated sense of purpose in their reading and to establish a central metaphor — Lewis’s “clean sea breeze of the centuries” — that class discussions will frequently return to as they compare the older cultures the class reads about with our own. Secondarily, the session will offer brief observations on a belief and a practice that students bring from our culture into the classroom: the belief that individual choice is the highest good and the practice of reflexive irony.