coromandal


what books do

In first year uni philosophy, one of the essays we read was titled – does literature humanize? I went on to study literature for four years, and since then – decades ago – the question of the role of literature, now in our culture almost entirely sidelined, niggles.

In this video is a case for what literature does from the School of Life, and below are pulled quotes done by Brain Pickings. Reading literature opens new worlds, makes us sympathetic and human, offers comfort and companionship, and confirms the fragility and imperfection of life. This is a list based on the idea of the consolations of philosophy – a very powerful and necessary truth.

I also think that literature has a macro effect that isn’t as evident in this consolations view. For instance, could we say that as a humanizing agent, literature – and the humanities at large – is our most significant defense against intractable fundamentalisms and ideologies of control? I think so. Do we want a strong stand against the reductive teachings of some preachers, MBAs, cults, CEOs, mullahs, mobs, clubs, and isms? Try an educated population.

Literature frees us, yet some of the deans of our universities want to get rid of it, either because they don’t see the connection, or they’re not interested in the kinds of freedom the humanities engender and sustain.

Video above (duh) and the pulled quotes here:

  • IT SAVES YOU TIME
    It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver — because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator — a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.

  • IT MAKES YOU NICER
    Literature performs the basic magic of what things look like though someone else’s point of view; it allows us to consider the consequences of our actions on others in a way we otherwise wouldn’t; and it shows us examples of kindly, generous, sympathetic people.Literature deeply stands opposed to the dominant value system — the one that rewards money and power. Writers are on the other side — they make us sympathetic to ideas and feelings that are of deep importance but can’t afford airtime in a commercialized, status-conscious, and cynical world.
  • IT’S A CURE FOR LONELINESS
    We’re weirder than we like to admit. We often can’t say what’s really on our minds. But in books we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events, described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves — they find the words to describe the fragile, weird, special experiences of our inner lives… Writers open our hearts and minds, and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and with less of a feeling of paranoia or persecution…
  • IT PREPARES YOU FOR FAILURE
    All of our lives, one of our greatest fears is of failure, of messing up, of becoming, as the tabloids put it, “a loser.” Every day, the media takes us into stories of failure. Interestingly, a lot of literature is also about failure — in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up… Great books don’t judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media…
    Literature deserves its prestige for one reason above all others — because it’s a tool to help us live and die with a little bit more wisdom, goodness, and sanity.

Alain de Botton, The School of Life via Brain Pickings

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