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In this path-breaking new work, Gregory Jusdanis asks why literature matters. Why are we afraid to admit our pleasures of reading, to defend the arts to the school board, to discuss the importance of literature in life? Drawing on a wealth of references from Aristophanes to Eudora Welty, from Fernando Pessoa to Orhan Pamuk, from Cavafy to hypertext stories, Jusdanis reminds us that the arts have always been under attack. Instead of despair, however, he offers a pragmatic defense of literature, arguing that it performs a social function in dramatizing the break between illusion and reality, life and the life-like, permanence and metamorphosis. The ability to distinguish between the actual and the imaginary is essential to human beings. Our capacity to imagine something new, to project ourselves into the mind of another person, and to fight for a new world is based on this distinction. Literature allows us to imagine alternate possibilities of human relationships and political institutions, even in the watery world of the Internet. At once daring and lucid, Fiction Agonistes considers the place of art today with passion and optimism.
Gregory Jusdanis is Distinguished Humanities Professor at The Ohio State University. He is the author of The Necessary Nation (2001), Belated Modernity and Aesthetic Culture: Inventing National Literature(1991) and The Poetics of Cavafy: Textuality, Eroticism, History (1987).