Thanks to my friend Piers Steel, I found this fascinating article on the use of literature as therapy for convicts. More broadly, the piece points out the benefits of interdisplinary approachs to humanities and sciences, by detailing the beneficial psychological effects of the lessons of literature. (This is preaching to the choir a bit here, I know, but as I’m currently writing a piece on moral psychology and crime, I found it particularly fascinating.)
I teach a literature course in a penitentiary, so I find this piece particularly intriguing and am tempted to confirm this phenomenon as “true.” My experience has been that some prisoners–students, I try always to call them students–benefit from the course more than others. Some students are there because they want to learn and to escape the otherwise monotonous routines of prison life; some simply want to tell their parole board that they’re taking a college-level course. In any case, I’ve found that most students, most of the time, appreciate the literature that we read and the discussions we have during class.
I’m no psychologist, so I don’t know what effects, if any, literature has on my students; and without knowing why exactly, I’m inclined to think that psychology alone wouldn’t explain the import and impact of literature in this prison classroom. Part of me winces when I hear commentators like Richard Posner reduce literature to therapy and consolation when it is, I want to believe, so much more than that. But I’m now drifting away from the point of your post, which was quite interesting. I do think literature serves a psychological function, and I would love to hear where your research leads. I’d be betraying my ignorance of the subject if I tried here to spell out why and how I think literature operates constructively on a psychological level, but my experience, although limited and surely not representative of all such experiences, leads me to believe in the nuturing and cultivating possibilities of literature with regard to the human mind.
Thanks for the post.
Thanks, Allen–and thanks too for your welcome in your last post, much appreciated!
To be sure, I would never say that the only positive effects of literature are psychological, but merely that that is how psychologists naturally will look at them. My point was much more general, and appreciative of their realization that literature has such positive effects at all, which you know better than most!
My apologies for writing MarC instead of MarK! That’s what happens when I dash off a quick response without properly proofing.