Sunday, November 3, 2013


Why is literature important, particularly in the "Information Age" when technology seems to make the printed word seem on its way to becoming obsolete?

The written word is a representational language, a stylized conceptual way of thinking, connected but different from speaking aloud.  The core difference is that the written word speaks in metaphors and allegories that would sound stilted if applied to speaking in the real world. Writing paints a picture in the mind of a reader who must use imagination to interpret and comprehend what the writer is saying.  Particularly because reading is passive, the writer is speaking directly into the reader's head. 

Literature is just that -- literal.  There are highly detailed rules of application.  What the written story is about, the subject matter, must be told in a direct fashion or it becomes so much gibberish, even if layered in themes, dramatic devices or highly stylized.  Writing builds ideas upon pre-existing ideas of cultural myths, layered on top of the formal education and life experiences the reader has had, compelling the reader forward in their intellectual maturity and widening their world view, yet, always starting with what they already know. 

Telling someone a story verbally and writing and reading the same story changes the way the story is interpreted.  People learn in different manners -- audio or visual -- and at different speeds. Reading books allows the luxury of pause, rewind and re-play. Reading is, foremost, personal.

Wisdom And Insight

Literature can provide insight and wisdom -- in addition to some basic entertainment from the pleasure of a good story. From cradle to grave, people get caught up in a good story, imagination being a problem-solving survival tool.  The main characters in most literature face the struggles that come with human existence.  Just being a human being -- even if cloaked in the seemingly alien -- is to transcend the specifics of that one character and become an universal symbol of all processes of learning and growth from their on-going experiences that unfold within the literature's structure.
In a second-hand way, the reader gains the insight of the main character and the experiences written about which then become part of the collective consciousness of the reader. The plot devices of man against man, man against nature, and man against God, are the templates in which the essence of human existence can be explored in innumerable mutations. Perhaps the most important of the story's arc (the beginning, middle and end) is the conclusion, as the understanding of the future may be only as satisfying as the answers to the questions the story raises and resolves, reinforcing that our lives do, in fact, have purpose and meaning -- even if we don't believe it ourselves on a conscious level.

But as the reader identifies with or judges against the main character as they face such situations of conflict and resolution, the reader also re-establishes the boundaries of self, redefining not only the values of a society in the context of the literature, but who the reader is in relationship to the external world beyond the imagined. Self-image -- the ego -- itself is made of "story".

Historical Perspective

Much of literature covers historical eras and themes. Literature can make history come alive and can act as a mirror to the present. Instead of studying maps and memorizing dates, the reader is engaged with the people of that era with the advantage of hindsight. Historical literature has dialogue, culture, thoughts, and events that are portrayed by characters the reader grows to understand -- involved but at a discernable distance.

If mankind is doomed to repeat history, as many believe, then perhaps working through the issues of modern life through literature -- liken to children "playing" to work psychologically and socially through the fear, doubt, guilt and shame facing them as they grow -- is the salvation of the group through the enlightened individual and the ideas that individual values.  A society may only be as strong to survive whatever challenges lie ahead in association to it's most common myths -- written or otherwise.

A Murder Mystery may be an excellent way in which to appreciate living and learn how NOT to get dead.

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