Ongoing Initiation into Art

I like Edward Hirsch’s stated goal in his preface to How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry:

Throughout this book I am enacting the role of the reader and hope you will unite with me. I seek to guide others as I myself have been guided by various strong readers through the sometimes challenging devices and difficulties, the splendid elaborations of poetry. One seeks to become the kind of reader who enters an area of expertise and yet still remains open to the spacious unfolding—the shining body—of the poem itself. It is the technical accomplishment—the actual physical body—of the poem that delivers our ecstatic response to it. This book is designed to give the reader the deepest access to all the ways of a poem’s working. I’d like to believe that the ongoing initiation into art deepens our capacity for personhood, our achievements for humanity.

“The ongoing initiation into art”: I think that’s what I’ve been striving for, documenting my efforts here at The Ruff Draft, and I would agree that art deepens our capacity for personhood. Art is expansive. It opens us to the world beyond the little corners we inhabit.

When I was a younger homeschooling mom, I read a fair amount about various philosophies of education, and I remember that Charlotte Mason believed that magnanimity should be the goal of education. Here is a lovely definition from Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

MAGNANIM’ITY, n. [L. magnanimitas; magnus, great, and animus, mind.] Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.

I think that’s it. The value of art/literature is that it fosters magnanimity, and can thereby make us better citizens, no matter what Harold Bloom says. Now I’ll have to go back and see how Gary Saul Morson’s “Can Reading Literature Make Us Moral?” fits into this.

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