Literature is perhaps the only academic discipline that studies the impact of the human imagination on our everyday lives. All other subject areas avoid the subjective and the riches the imaginative world provide: science objectifies, history reconstructs, business quantifies and thrives on profitability. Only literary studies gives credibility and significance to individual perceptions, feelings, dreams and our inner voice. Literature admits the good, the evil, and the uncertain in equal measure; and projects a world that is recognizable but also incomprehensible. Literature, in other words, takes on all the big and small issues of what it means to be human. It stirs our moral imagination, our capacity to sympathize with other people, and our ability to understand our existence through the experience of fiction.
When we study literature, we learn how to explore and analyze fiction as a construct of words put together in a certain order. By examining and studying these constructions, we learn about language as a medium that provides sophistication to our understanding about the manipulation of symbols, and about style and atmosphere. We grasp how ambiguous language is and how important context and texture are to the production of meaning.
Literature enhances other disciplinary studies too: it makes engineers better problem solvers, lawyers better advocates, politicians better rhetoricians, marketing and advertising agents better sellers, and citizens prudent consumers. When we learn how language is manipulated in the making of texts, we become more conscious and less susceptible to the seductions of language manipulating us.
Also, we develop a greater sensitivity to good writing in general. We get a stronger sense of the importance of individual words, even the sounds of words and their combinations. It will not turn every student into a Charles Dickens or a Shakespeare, but it will make us more adaptable and effective writers, even if our art form ends up being the office memo or the corporate annual report.
Studying literature can help students become better readers, better writers and interpreters, and hopefully, better human beings.