Literature Archive

The Detail of Formation

The art of teaching and studying literature is in one sense very simple, and yet, in another sense, complex. We might ask, is “God in the detail” or is the “Devil in the detail”? To answer such a question, it helps to remember that the idiom “God is in the detail” appeared first and holds …

The Saving Power of Story

“Great works of art pass through us like storm winds, flinging open the doors of perception, pressing upon the architecture of our beliefs with their transforming powers …” – George Steiner One of life’s great little mysteries, if not ironies, remains the unpredictability of what children will grow up to do for their life’s work. …

A Journey Like Dante’s

Virgil has vanished. Before Dante realizes it, his steadfast guide and guardian disappears in the Earthly Paradise, the gateway separating Purgatory and Paradise. Though this brings Dante much sorrow, the continuation of his journey depends on this necessary parting. Seven hundred years later, leaving Highlands Latin School for Hillsdale College, I find myself in the …

The Music of Orpheus

The early Greeks had little idea of the One God of the Hebrews, and lived too early in history to know of the Trinitarian God of the Christians. But they shared with Judaism and Christianity the idea that the things of the world and the actions of men had meaning. This belief was expressed in …

The Descendants of Scrooge

There is a common theme in most Christmas stories of a man who is too cynical, or depressed, or crotchety (sometimes even evil) to participate in the spirit of Christmas, and who, because of some event or insight, has his eyes opened to the wonder of the world. We all know this cast of characters: …

Light to the Darkness

Narrative accounts and musical commemorations follow in the wake of every disaster. From the Iliad and the Odyssey, written about events related to the Trojan War, to Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” literature and music have dealt with destruction and death. What great crime doesn’t have its own documentary? What great disaster …

Shadow & Substance

The contrast between shadow and substance singularly interested Shakespeare, as did the very nature of things themselves. He even makes use of profound concepts in logic, such as difference, property, and essence. In rhetoric, these are the topics of invention, for they concern the act of defining. So, then, let us define why we should …

The Freedom to Fail

In classical rhetoric, the divisio is the section of a persuasive speech that presents the division, the point at which the topic is divided into two opposing perspectives. Granted, many differences exist between traditional and modern education, yet where do the most fundamental of these divisions lie? What is the divisio when it comes to the topic (or “issue”) of education? I …

Of Thine Own Self Beware

Shakespeare (1564-1616) must have sensed these cultural changes deeply enough to predict and highlight the perils of individualism in some of his plays, namely Romeo and Juliet. In his time, and especially in the seventeenth century, the notion of the individual changed significantly in its relation to the church, the monarchy, society, personal freedom, the literary life, public and private life, and even …

Herman Melville’s Literary Imagination

Herman Melville is often criticized for his long digressions in Moby-Dick. But Melville does not digress. His thoughts—even six hundred pages of his thoughts—really were worth writing down. My students, holding the inches-thick volume in their hands and perusing the table of contents, have trouble believing this. Nevertheless, when I teach Melville’s great work, I …