People have an imagination based on knowledge and experience
People instinctively have the ability to imagine things in some form in relation to their knowledge and experience, rather than simply taking them as they are.
For example, people who visit Asakusa for the first time sometimes have a somewhat nostalgic feeling. I think that is because their knowledge of Japanese history and culture overlaps with the image of Asakusa.
On the other hand, when you see scenery or people that are not seen in tourist guides, you are puzzled by the gap and try to make your own meaning. This leads to enjoying the town and accumulating new knowledge and experience.
If a person does not have such ability to associate and image his or her past knowledge and experience with the landscape in front of him or her, it is simply information, and that information will only be accumulated or eventually forgotten and unable to be used in the future.
The same thing happens with reading. For example, to read a novel is to follow the word sequence with your eyes, but the simple sequence of words is transformed into a concrete image for each reader without realizing.
Also, rather than getting concrete images continuously one after another, you may more often encounter blank spaces that you cannot fill with an image from words. In other words, readers are working to fill the blank spaces with imagination based on their own knowledge and experience.
On the other hand, the imagination based on their own knowledge and experience can lead to assumptions and prejudices.
For example, you may believe you understand new discoveries in the town within your own knowledge and experience, rather than seeing them as gaps. In other words, you have your own right answer from the beginning, and you apply all your findings to it.
However, you can also experience there being more than one correct answer in reading.
For example, when you read Osamu Dazai’s work Run, Melos!, you see that different ways of perceiving an event are possible depending on whether you read it from the perspective of Melos or King Dionis.
From the point of view of King Dionis, he cannot trust anyone else, much less the young man Melos, a formidable terrorist who has invaded his palace to kill him. In Melos there is the assertion of Melos, but in the king there is also the anguish of the king.
This is not limited to Run, Melos!. Literary works reveal that they themselves deny such ideas as no one can misread them.
Anxiety stemming from there being more than one right answer
In recent years, it has often been said that diversity is important for sustaining our society. That is true. However, it also means that there is no correct answer. It seems that the more people understand about diversity, the more anxious they are about not having a correct answer.
For example, the society in the era of rapid economic growth in Japan had a simpler system than it is today, and everyone was united toward the same goal.
It was a solid system in which if you acquire A, you can enjoy the social status of B and its benefits for the rest of your life.
Since the 1990s, however, many things that had been considered absolute have collapsed, making it much more difficult to understand what is right and what is wrong.
For example, the system that had been believed to grow society was denied as the one that cannot sustain society.
There, anxiety has arisen and made us tend to seek the only absolute answer, which we believe to be valuable.
In short, we have failed to properly appreciate the meaning of having more than one correct answer.
This may have led to a recent topical trend in education that emphasizes practical writing over literary writing.
Certainly, it is important to acquire the ability to read practical writings correctly. Practical writing, however, has two assumptions that make it practical.
One is that everything written is right. The second is that the sentences would not lead to anyone misreading them. In other words, practical writings have the only absolute answer.
In particular, at a time when the younger generation is anxious about complex and diverse values and wants to value the one and only answer, education that emphasizes practical writing will be more acceptable.
However, I am afraid that it may run counter to developing the skills to correctly understand the meaning of there being more than one correct answer.
Furthermore, there is a concern that the penetration of practical reading methods may lead to a mechanism that guides readers to a certain direction without misinterpretation. Isn’t that scary?
Study in the School of Arts and Letters, which develops versatile abilities
Literary writing, on the other hand, emphasizes not only text but also context. Accordingly, depending on the context, it is possible to imagine and fill a blank space that you cannot fill with images from the text alone as mentioned above, and to extract various stories depending on the viewpoint.
This means that each reader can interpret the writing from his or her own point of view. Then, they can also bring their own interpretation to the discussion.
In the discussion, they have to explain why they read it in such a way that the others will understand.
That is not to convince others like in a debate, which determines winners and losers, but to convince them that if they read it from the point of view or within the framework of A, they will read it as A’. In that case, the explanation for reading it as B’ may not be convincing.
Reading literary works involves experiencing two tasks at the same time: reading and interpreting the text in your own way and creating practical sentences for the purpose of explaining your perspective and convincing others of it.
On the other hand, some people explain that if they read it in the framework of C, they will read it as C’. When the explanations are mutually acceptable, they can share each other’s point of view or framework of the literary work that the other has never thought of.
This brings them into contact with diverse or multi-perspective thinking. Having their views accepted by others as a result of such discussion gives them confidence, as well as letting them know that their perspective is one of many.
In particular, it is said that it is important for the current younger generation to improve their communication and presentation skills.
Among various ways of honing such skills, I think that a series of tasks in which you read a literary work, activate your imagination based on your own knowledge and experience to read and interpret it in your own way, and communicate it to the others would be effective.
Education and training that emphasize practical writing can dispel anxiety about having not only one correct answer, as I mentioned earlier, and it may be appreciated in some ways. There is, however, a fear that it can instill devices to guide readers and promote prejudice.
I believe that the ability to know more than that can be cultivated by reading literary writings and having the readers’ original interpretation as well as refining it through discussion, communication, and presentation.
While diversity is important for social sustainability, we have come to understand that it also creates a precarious situation for us.
At such times, it is important to think about how to live on the premise of instability, rather than seeking stability and security by relying on one correct answer. In that sense, I think the role played by the School of Arts and Letters is significant.
I think that students in academic fields, where research is conducted on the premise that what is written and what is seen are self-evident, can cultivate the versatile ability to live in this society by learning how to think and understand things, just like literature research learning in the School of Arts and Letters shown as an example.
Recently, it is said that the number of retired people participating in local reading groups is increasing.
When we reread a work we read when we were young, we often find we have a different impression. Probably, we have begun to notice that knowing such difference and discussing the different impressions with various people will lead us to reconsider our fixed point of view.
* The information contained herein is current as of January 2022.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.