“No one who is not deeply corrupted will think of making learning a form of commerce for his own enrichment.” (37).
Marjorie Garber, in her book The Use and Abuse of Literature, examines all of the ways the written word has been promoted, performed, presented, plagiarized, and consumed by the public. It is a wide ranging work. A big swath of what we might call the literary universe is discussed in non-academic terms. The guiding question that fuels all the explorations is definitional: what is literature? Garber keeps both edges of her chosen title close together. Literature of every kind has by turns been used in a myriad of ways and abused in just as many. The work doesn’t just examine the highbrow stuff. The philistine stuff gets plenty of room to disco. The literary world, Garber argues, is constantly evolving. Literature is a living breathing thing and we will continue to talk and absorb literature in all its different guises. For example, Shakespeare will always remain new because every generation has to absorb him, comment on him, praise or complain about him. The same goes for comics.
The Use and Abuse of Literature reads like a cultural history of literature, the ways that people and society have responded to literature and how it has shaped us over the centuries. Literary studies—from the exercises of the great critic-connoisseurs to the essay writings of high school kids—is a process. It is an ongoing discussion with the works of the past reinterpreted and digested in new ways with each successive generation. There is no ultimate, true once and for all time, reading of any literary work (prose, poetry or otherwise).