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The Critical PulseThirty-Six Credos by Contemporary Critics$
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Jeffrey Williams and Heather Steffen

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231161152

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231161152.001.0001

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Coerced Confessions

Coerced Confessions

(p.151) 21 Coerced Confessions
The Critical Pulse

Bruce Robbins

Columbia University Press

This chapter presents the author's reflections about the value of literature. He tells an anecdote about teaching his first class at Columbia on September 12, 2001, when the events of the previous day were foremost in everyone's minds. When he offered students the choice of either talking about the attack on the World Trade Center or trying for business as usual, a large majority opted for business as usual. But consulting his own feelings, he realized that he could not avoid some sort of segue. He then told his students that one reason for paying attention to the novels they were going to be reading was the challenge of producing something like meaning out of historical materials that, like the planes that attacked the World Trade Center, seem to come from nowhere and thus seem to defy the whole project of novel writing. He suggests that literature is worth teaching because it offers a distinctive experience of living with ethical and emotional contradiction.

Keywords:   literature, teachers, teaching, ethical contradiction, emotional contradiction, feelings, 9/11

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