Pharos-Tribune

Columns

May 28, 2014

PARKER: Warning: Literature happening

Just when you thought American higher learning couldn’t get any more ridiculous, along come demands for warning labels on provocative works of literature.

One never knows when a sentence, phrase or word might trigger some buried memory or traumatic experience. Life is a veritable assault on the excessively sensitive, but somehow most of us muddle through. C’est la vie, after all.

But literature, apparently, is fair game for those tortured souls who fear that some -ism or another might leap from a page, causing what exactly? A moment of discomfort? An opportunity to sort through one’s emotional attic? Or, heavens, exposure to an involuntary insight?

Several schools (including Oberlin College, Rutgers University, George Washington University and the University of Michigan) are toiling with these very questions as students have begun requesting “trigger warnings” on books and syllabuses.

“Warning: This book includes a rape scene,” for example, would warn rape victims lest they be traumatized by the contents.

Mightn’t students Google a book in advance of reading if they’re so fearful of a psychological crisis? One is surprised that student organizers at these schools would use such a loaded word as “trigger,” given its obvious association with guns.

Without making light of anyone’s ethnicity, race or trauma, especially rape or stress disorder suffered by veterans (another specific group of concern), such precautions are misplaced in an institution of higher learning where one is expected to be intellectually challenged and where one’s psychological challenges are expected to be managed elsewhere.

There are, besides, other ways to inform oneself about a course or literary assignment that might be problematic for whatever reason. Then again, if reading “The Great Gatsby” causes one undue angst owing to its abuse, classism, sexism and whatever-ism, then one might consider that college is not the right place at the right time.

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