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Defamiliarize Yourself by Reading Foreign Literature

By Jared Gendron
On March 1, 2019

Reading foreign literature can be challenging but also rewarding. It involves a process of learning another nation’s culture and pragmatics. By “foreign literature” I don’t mean the original text of the author but instead the translation into English (if that is the language you intend to read the literature in). You’ll soon find that social customs and manner of speech are radically different in other languages, especially if they were written in past historical contexts.

If you read foreign literature then you are effectively broadening your world view and opening yourself up to different branches of philosophy. Reading, in itself, is an action that expands world view. However, foreign literature is set far enough apart from our current position in the world that it guarantees a different perception in which to see things. It cultivates a heightened sense of self-awareness and teaches us not to take things for granted.

Foreign culture also exercises empathy and witnessing people outside our own sphere. On TV there are arguably “white peoples” shows and the like that don’t do much in the way diversifying their cast or culture. And that’s okay, but I think it’s important to mix up our selection of entertainment every now and then to experience something unfamiliar. After all, it can be argued that racism stems from and not being exposed to different cultures and ethnicities and through a learned disdain of “otherness.” Through foreign literature, you begin to break down these barriers and connect with people from different nations, different skin colors and customs, different settings of time. You get to realize that all these people, with radically different societies and traditions are all, at the core, 99% just like you and me with the same problems and insecurities.

Empathy is an important skill. Foreign literature is a medium in which empathy can exercised, and I believe reading it can lead us to become more compassionate for others and for ourselves. Take a foreign literature class or hop over to Lamson Library and peruse the vast selection of authors to explore a world outside our own.

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