OrthodoxyToday.org
Commentary on social and moral issues of the day


What Use Is Literature?

Myron Magnet

  • Print this page
  • Email this page
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Bookmark and Share

Am excellent essay. Read it, then read it again.

Aristotle perhaps didn't go far enough when he said that tragedy was more philosophic than history, concentrating as it does on what might be rather than merely on what had been. He might have gone on to say that tragedy--or, more broadly, literature--is more philosophic even than philosophy. It is a form of knowledge that draws on all our ways of knowing, rather than on ratiocination alone. And it is a more intense form of knowledge, since, unlike philosophy, it isn't constantly taking its own pulse, or checking its instruments, anxiously asking itself how it can know this or that. As Dickens would say, it just goes and knows it.

Two or three decades ago, the belief that literature was a repository of knowledge--and important knowledge--was usual enough for critics to take it for granted. At the very least, everybody understood that literature was a storehouse of documentary knowledge. We could learn about how others lived--the Greeks, the men of the Middle Ages, our own contemporaries: how they judged one another, what they considered good manners, how they fell in love, what their family life was like, how they structured their society, when they dined, how they grew up and took their place in the world of adults.

But that was only the beginning. Literature also teaches us more about psychology than the psychologists can. The inner life--and its relation to the outer appearance, from which it is often (and proverbially) very different--is literature's special subject. It is a particularly complex subject, with its interweaving of motives and impulses, as appetites grapple with ideals, as consciousness both registers and distorts external reality, as natural promptings intersect with social ambitions, and the universal in our nature takes on the fashion and the garb of a particular age.

Read the entire article on the City Journal website.



Copyright 2001-2014 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. Follow copyright link for details.
Copyright 2001-2014 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.


Article link: