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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 96 | volume XVII | May-June, 2014



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 96May-June, 2014

A discussion of "Angel Levin" by Malamud

Does reading literary works enhance empathy in real life?

p. 1
Afrodita Nikolova

1. Introduction

     Current debates about arts in society and education stress their marginalised status, especially in school curricula. This has provoked debates in defence of the arts. As much as these try to reaffirm the value of the arts, they also subvert their status (Abbs 2003, 7–44, 117–130; Eisner 2002, 1–25; Fleming 2012, 8–17). In this text, I would like to discuss the claim that “reading literary works enhances empathy”, stemming from these debates. Ascribing such additional benefits to the act of reading literary works, could undermine literature’s value per se. One example for this is the iconographic “Benefits from reading books” designed by Gosia Zimniak, whose main purpose is to show the variety of ways in which reading changes people (see Appendix A). Before ascribing additional benefits to literature, reader’s interaction and emotional responses to literary texts should be understood. Hence, in this essay I will elaborate the responses of four actual readers from Macedonia. Moreover, I chose the text “Angel Levine” by Bernard Malamud because the themes of racism and discrimination together with the use of the technique of magical realism and magical elements, are suitable for discussing the claim abut empathy.
     Firstly, I will explain the gist of current arts debates worldwide, relevant to the Macedonian context. Secondly, I will define the reader-response theory, its key terminology and latest trends in narrative empathy (Barthes 1975, 3–14, 51–67; Barthes 1990, 3–10; Culler 2002, 131–153; Eco 1984, 3–46; Eisenberg and Strayer 1990, 3–103, 185–218; Fish 1980a, 1–27; Fish 1980b, 303–322; Iser 1974, 1–57, 257–274; Iser 1980; Keen 2013, 49–65; Keen 2008, 477–493; Keen 2007, 3–65, 121–169; Mar and Macrae 2006, 110–132; Rosenblatt 1980, 386–394; Rosenblatt 1994). Thirdly, I will give a brief overview of “Angel Levine” in order to discuss textual responses from four Macedonian readers, three female and one male student (Abramson 1994, 146–156; Benedict 1983, 28–36; Bluefarb 1964, 319–326, 335; Faris 1995, 145–163; Freedman 1966, 90–107; Slemon 1995, 407–427). The main focus of the discussion will be the empathy that readers exert or don’t exert for characters. Finally, I will stress the need for further empirical research about the influence of reading for developing empathy in real life; and the need to value textual pleasure and bliss, the aesthetic experience per se.

2. The value of literature: debates

The historical development of the arts in education can be traced through their inclusion in the curricula as well as the trends in

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