Why Literature Matters

Event Date: 
Wednesday, May 17, 2017 - 18:30 to 20:30

There will be a public debate on 'Why Literature Matters', sponsored by The Leavis Society and the University of Hertfordshire, in association with New College of the Humanities and Bloomsbury Philosophy. Bernard Harrison and Howard Jacobson will be representing The Leavis Society. All are welcome to attend and participate in the general discussion.

'Why Literature Matters' will now be held (NOT at the Bloomsbury Institute) at the New College of the Humanities, 19 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3HHon 17 May 2017, with the following invited panelists:

    • Lesley Chamberlain​ is a writer of fiction and an independent scholar with a preponderant interest in German and Russian thought. After a degree in Russian and German Comparative Literature at the University of Exeter she took a research degree at Oxford before joining Reuters as a correspondent in Moscow in 1978. Her freelance career as a writer and critic began in 1986, since when she has written for all the major British newspapers, and also The LA Times and The Wall Street Journal. She currently writes occasionally for The New Statesman and The Times Literary Supplement, drawing on her background in European literature and Continental Philosophy.
    • Greg Currie teaches Philosophy at the University of York where he is Director of Research, Greg teaches and researches on many aspects of the arts: literature, film and painting, the narrative arts and their role in learning, the place of the aesthetic in archaeological explanation, the nature of adaptation, the role of emotion in fiction, and the effect of irony in pictures and in language. Educated at the London School of Economics and the University of California, Berkeley, Greg has taught at universities in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. He joined the Department of Philosophy at the University of York in 2013 and has published a number of articles and books, mostly on the arts and their relation to the mind. His next book is Fiction and Cognition (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
    • Bernard Harrison is currently Emeritus E.E. Ericksen Professor of Philosophy in the University of Utah and an Emeritus Professor in the University of Sussex. He is one of a number of analytic philosophers, more numerous now than formerly, whose interests include literature and its relationships with philosophy and the history of ideas. His literary work includes Fielding's Tom Jones: The Novelist as Moral Philosopher (Chatto, 1975), Inconvenient Fictions: Literature and the Limits of Theory (Yale University Press, 1991), What Is Fiction For? Literary Humanism Restored (Indiana University Press, 2015), and numerous papers.
    • Howard Jacobson lists Samuel Johnson, Jane Austen and Dickens among his foremost inspirations, and has written variously about comedy, Australia, Jewishness and love. In 2010 Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question, published by Bloomsbury; in 2014, his novel J was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The Mighty Walzer (1999) and Zoo Time (2013) both won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. Jacobson's non-fiction work includes Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It (2011) a collection of the weekly columns he writes for The Independent. His most recent publications include Shylock Is My Name: a novel (2016) and Pussy (2017), a comic fairy tale which hopes both to explain why Donald Trump won and to provide the “consolation of savage satire”.
    • Penny Pritchard is an experienced researcher and lecturer in early modern English literature, with particular expertise in the history and literature of English Protestant dissent and the writing of Daniel Defoe. The principal focus of Penny's research has considered the relationship between different textual genres in seventeenth and eighteenth-century English writing, both those formally considered as 'literature' and others, such as funeral sermons and political pamphlets.
    • Roger Scruton is a widely translated writer and philosopher who has published more than forty books in philosophy, aesthetics and politics. In Beauty (OUP 2009), Scruton explores this timeless concept, asking what makes an object – either in art, in nature, or the human form – beautiful. Among his most recent publications are: The Disappeared (Bloomsbury 2015), Confessions of a Heretic (a collection of essays) (2016), The Ring of Truth about Wagner’s Ring cycle (Penguin 2016). In his latest book, On Human Nature (Princeton UP 2017), Scruton defends human uniqueness, arguing, against philosophical materialists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, that human beings cannot be understood simply as biological objects. Professor Scruton teaches in England and America.

    The meeting will begin at 6:30, preceded by a wine reception at 6:00. Each of the panelists will have 10 minutes to voice their views on whether/how literature matters, and particularly whether it matters to the understanding of human psychology and morality, or whether such things are better left to 'specialists'. There will then be 30 minutes of discussion between panelists, and the final 30 minutes will be open to reactions from the floor. Registration is compulsory and places are limited, so don't delay! Book now!

    The panelists and organisers will then be invited to dinner at a nearby restaurant. ​Though we cannot afford to invite everyone, anyone attending the debate is most welcome to come along to the restaurant. Please do let us know a couple of weeks in advance so we can book!