Why should one inculcate the habit of reading good literature?

Article Posted in: Essay

An Essay by Sada
Volume IV, Issue XXXVI, January 2018  

Raza, a 24 year old employee in a public sector enterprise, enters his rented apartment, all dishevelled from the day’s travails and the pangs of travelling over a long distance to work and back home, eats his regular dinner bought from a Tiffin service and sits down to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground. He flips through the pages, stuck together from the sweat of his own hands, reaches the page and sentence he last read, and dissolves in the array of words arranged by a 19th-century author who’s long dead but not obscured. He finds redemption in the life of the bureaucrat whose sole purpose in the book seems to be the quest for happiness and the hurdles that he faces in their attainment. He feels gratified that he’s not alone, that what he feels was felt by this fictional character in the 19th century Tsarist Russia, that human fate and feelings transcend spatial and temporal boundaries.

Good literature is an exoneration from the horrid happenings of life that is powerfully weighed down by the overwhelming presence of an external motif and an internal sense of existence. The slow links that words develop through sentences and sentences through chapters, culminating into a coherent narrative are in themselves a sweet comfort that draws us away from momentarily from a very necessary weight of existence, drowning us in a philosophical ocean of random moorings. This is not to say that fiction or any literature for that matter is an escape from the real world, rather it is a potent laudanum that compels us to dream, to soar angelic and to let ourselves down in a continuously moving world.

A world without the culture of transmission of knowledge in constructed forms of fiction, philosophy, mythology and theology would be a bland world, rather a lost world. There would be no culture, no religion, no debate, no sophism or polemics contrived in a perspicuous manner for a continually-labouring man to comprehend. There would be no night-time stories, no hyperbolic chronicles to comfort our vulnerable childhood neither tales of forlorn love and teenage angst to help us through the onset of puberty. As Joseph Campbell says in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that each myth is a manifestation of our pre-birth foetal circumstances and provides us with the means to carry these forward through tales, similarly good literature is a succouring wagon that holds us to the ever-taut cable of life.

Literature may not necessarily be pleasant or gratifying. It can take horrifying forms as in Kafka’s works or in those of Orwell, Huxley and Atwood but the point worth mentioning is that it holds a mirror to our times, our lives, our constitution and most importantly, to our being humans. Dystopia, as in Nineteen Eighty Four or The Brave New World or Wallace’s Infinite Jest, is something to be evaded by the actions of the populace, that responsibility lies not only with those ruling over masses but with those as well who are being ruled. It serves as a compass that points us to the right direction whenever we begin to go awry, causing great distress in us, making us realise that one’s own trepidations are everyone else’s and that it is only a cogently built and functioning machine that produces. As Roland Barthes, the French literary theorist and philosopher, said, “Eiffel saw his Tower in the form of a serious object, rational, useful; men return it to him in the form of a great baroque dream which quite naturally touches on the borders of the irrational … architecture is always dream and function, expression of a utopia and instrument of a convenience.” Fictional utopias give us a goal to strive for same as dystopia warns us of the degradation that could occur at the hands of our own fellow beings. Good literature is what Plato may have spoken of in the allegory of the cave that will embellish our crude lives.

The critique of a piece of literature, similarly, provides us with the opportunity to learn to embrace our faults, that fails we will at points, but the strife to improve should never die, that we are flawed yet we are accepted. A remarkable recital is the autocorrect in our expeditious lives that are overwhelmed by social media, fast food, fickle contacts. It humbles us only for our betterment.

Raza reaches the end of  Dostoevsky’s razor-thin book, flipping the last page down as he pushes the back cover over the last blank page, reminiscing the emotional demise of the character and plunges into the deep thoughts that are fashioned on someone else’s life yet resonate in his head as his very own impulses. He keeps the book aside and takes solace in story’s plot, realising “man is a mystery. It needs to be unravelled, and if you spend your whole life unravelling it, don’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am studying that mystery because I want to be a human being.”


Author Introduction:

Sada is a writer of short stories and poems dealing with the philosophy of epistemology and ontology.

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