Why Literature?

Lately, I’ve been considering fiction’s place in the world, in the scope of history, in my classroom, and in my personal, interior life.

I’ve heard it attacked on several fronts, and I’m thinking that one of my callings might be to defend both the beauty and usefulness of fiction (at least in my little corner of the world).

But that contemplation has led me to a few surprising realizations that you must take with the proverbial grain of salt and interpret as broadly as you possibly can.

1. I’m not that interested in the literal.  Denotations are merely a place to start.  I’m interested in connotation and association.  I think in webs, not lines.

2. I find fiction much truer than non-fiction.  The news and biographies are full of bias, lies, prejudice, self-aggrandizement.  Great literature is full of sentences that are each the “truest sentence” the author knows.  They show us the world without facade or pretense, scraped clean, and trembling with life.

3. Non-fiction deals in the realm of what is.  Fiction deals in the realm of “should be,” if we had the courage, “would be” if we had the perseverance, “could be” if only we knew ourselves and the world a little bit better than we think we do.  Therefore, progress depends upon fiction.

4. We cannot see ourselves in non-fiction, because it is a description of reality.  It is a mirror held too closely to the face.  Fiction provides us with the distance we need to see ourselves as we truly are.  We escape into the story and from that vantage point look back at our own world to criticize or transform it.

5. Fiction opens up the realm of possibility, a world not bound to the rules of science and ordinary life that overwhelm our gray, colorless, Enlightenment-based existence (isn’t it odd that the Enlightenment made our world darker and smaller?).  Our hearts are open to the magical.  We buy in to the extraordinary, in a way we would never do Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Sundays, of course, are different. On Sunday, we believe that five loaves and two fishes can easily feed five thousand, that ax heads can float, and that a river may be turned to blood as easily as an evening sky may turn from blue to black.  The rest of the week, we are too mature for such beliefs.

That’s a start.  I will certainly write about this subject again.  For now, I hope that I have encouraged you to pick up a great novel, poem, or play that will encourage you to think about the world in new and beautiful ways.

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2 thoughts on “Why Literature?

    • Thank you very much, Amy! I appreciate your taking the time to comment, and I’m glad you enjoy the blog! It’s just a random mishmash of stuff I like, and I’m always a little surprised when other people besides my mom like it too.

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