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April 5, 2017 / Congau

Multicultural Distraction

Getting the perspective of many different cultures is certainly healthy and reading literature from different parts of the world is an element of a good education. But is it essential?

Good literature is timeless and great books are not restricted to their geographical place of origin. The ancient Greeks were modern people having the same human concerns as the people of today wherever they live in the world. Shakespeare was not an Englishman, well, he was, but that is quite irrelevant for he talks to any person on this earth.

The origin of the literature adds a certain color to it. It supplies the scenery and sets the stage for whatever action will take place. Anything has to happen somewhere and the author usually chooses his own environment out of convenience, as it is what is most neutral for him. Then the reader should not take these background settings and place them in the foreground and let them overshadow the central message of the play.

If the importance of studying multicultural texts is exaggerated, that is what happens: the focus is twisted and the background becomes the foreground. If the study is done out of respect for different cultures, the opposite may be the result. Any work of art should be appreciated for what it is and not because of some irrelevant attribute. It should be enjoyed because it is good and not because the artist happens to come from somewhere.

Moreover, if you want an overview of the best of the world’s literature, it is unlikely to be found evenly spread around the planet. Great art has an odd tendency to be clustered in certain regions during certain golden ages. Greece had its moment around 400 BC and Italy during the Renaissance etc. All countries and regions are not equally important at the same time and there is even no reason to believe that every one of them has had their moment of superiority. That can be assumed from the start by the law of probability and if upon closer inspection it turns out that some regions of the world are overrepresented in art and literature, we should not be surprised. If the students are to get an overview of the best, it would therefore be a distraction to require a multicultural balance.

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