Nota Bene: Can Books Teach Empathy?

From Jessa Crispin in The Baffler:

Reading Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing, I wondered, what the hell is it going to take? For decades we have had these types of critiques … And yet still we have critics like Jonathan Franzen speculating on whether Edith Wharton’s physical beauty (or lack of it, as is his assessment of her face and body) affected her writing, we have a literary culture that is still dominated by one small segment of the population, we have a sense that every significant contribution to the world of letters was made by the heterosexual white man…

Crispin then jumps right past celebrating the continued necessity of Russ’s work:

I am worried we’re all subdividing into tiny, highly specific demographics, and that I’m only going to be encouraged to read the works of other white, middle class, heterosexual, spinster, Cancer sun and Taurus rising women who came from the rural Midwest but now live in an urban area, because only they can truly understand and speak directly to me. It’s a cliché that literature builds empathy. It can help you along in that process, but only if you aggressively work against the impulse to treat literature like a mirror. The first step is to notice that you are doing that…

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