“What is the right use of books?” Responding to the question he famously raised, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “books are for nothing but to inspire,” which we take as endorsing a pragmatic and pluralistic view of reading literature and other kinds of texts in a manner that keeps books open to a flow of continual questioning and renewal. The purpose driving Emerson’s democratic conception of reading, we argue, is not to arrive at definitive readings but to engender new possibilities for thinking about oneself in relation to others and to society at large. As such, an Emersonian perspective on reading is a key practice for engaged democratic citizenship that provides a necessary counterweight to increasing pressure on teachers to standardize learning in schools.

Response to this Article

Daniel Malachuk, Repair to the Lamps and Rake the Language