Literature at First Sight

The first time I read Toni Morrison’s Sula it was like love at first sight. Amid the thirty or so novels presented to me in my second year of academic study, it simply stood out far above the other texts. Was it the cover, with a bird and a rose, that drew me in? Or was it the summary of the plot, given to us as our weekly enticement to discover yet another novel? Whatever it was, I took a chance on Sula, and because I did, I have been working on Morrison’s fiction ever since.

Thirty five years have passed and it is still the same enchantment.

At the time, it was the simultaneous shock of discovery and recognition. Why did a novel that described such a foreign context to me also feel so intimate? I did not understand it. Yet I knew it. And I also knew I wanted to elucidate the reason why the novel spoke to me in the careful ways it did. I like so many others, sought answers in academic research.

In hindsight, what this particular novel taught me is astonishing. It has made the famous saying “know thyself” the leading impetus behind my academic research and teaching. Ever since I started teaching, I have felt the need to address and relate to students in precisely the same way that this book did for me: impress them with the intuition that something vital is at stake in Literature. Really great stories are no mere entertainments. They are mirrors of the soul in which to receive the Grace of self-knowledge, the portal to true wisdom. An old-fashioned virtue, to be sure, but in these times of total upheaval, what else do we have