Fate and the Individual in 21st Century America

Making rounds today, and brought up by one of my students: Auden’s daunting syllabus to his University of Michigan course Fate and the Individual in European Literature. This came up in a discussion about a student’s epistolary essay exploring, getting at, trying to get at what is either the failure of young people and students to sufficiently care about the direction of their own lives—i.e. what percentage of the human population possesses or cultivates a sense of individual destiny, and is that the job of education?—or the University (and their teachers’) failure to do anything but sap them of the will to learn or be interesting. I am fond of these sentences by Auden which defend a use for poetry that is the opposite of lofty and yet a condition no one at all interested in being more human (and who doesn’t, even if we’re not sure what that means) would not find a preferred condition.

The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us. I do not know if such increased awareness makes us more moral or more efficient. I hope not. I think it makes us more human, and I am quite certain it makes us more difficult to deceive.