In this piece I want to talk about a different perspective on how we perceive literature. A personal approach which is the fruit of a several years reflection exercise on why should I read fiction (or artistic prose) and why is it so easy for more and more people to replace it with video materials.
My introspection has risen from the difficulty I had, as a child and as a young adult, to get over my natural superficial flow and, for one hour per day, focus on the story of a book and the writing elements that make it special. My way of being has many times driven me to the idea that being a writer may be the only way I could intersect passion with interest in this product-client driven society.
My last article was about a trading card game that became a passion of mine since last year, and how the simple artistic design of the cards can sometimes get me without even having to play the game. So, if you want, we can say that this article is about a passion that I grew within myself and my observations with this project over the years.
How: Everyone should at first read just so they can really learn HOW to read. I mean to really get sense of authenticity from an author’s style and to understand his view of the world from his characters. Style is more than genre, it is a distinct skill of building pieces of life in particular ways. A simple example here can be that some authors prefer to let their characters advance the story through their actions and words which stand for their feelings, while others only use characters as pretext for the environment to speak about how their feelings are changing – sometimes, the story is in the depiction.
After you’ve learned how to read, you can start understanding what literature really is. It is not a depiction of life but the closest process to actually creating life. And I mean life not as creatures but as the network of mechanics that make existence possible. This comes out when you watch the particularities that make one book different from another.
The fact that a character is about to skin a fish when his mother dies is how William Faulkner chooses to create a little boy’s trauma and expresses it by making the him randomly talk with the fish in the most crucial moments of his life.
Elizabeth Strout builds up a character by making him episodic or secondary in the episodes of all other characters that together constitute a radiography of the people of Maine. Each citizen becomes the city and the whole city becomes Olive Kitteridge, which, in her roughness and self-criticism watches over everyone. (HBO made a 4 episode series after this book)
The difference: With all that being said, the difference between literature and any other piece of art or learning material comes down to the most obvious characteristic – the almighty language. It took me a lot of school and more personal reading to understand that language has the power to dabble with the particular in the most efficient way. There are semiotics papers about this but I will not get into them now. All you need to understand is that words can speak of a specific thing and add upon it in a specific way, that creates a unique flow (depending upon how talented it’s creator is) and the combining of these unique flows can lead to an authentic world whit it’s own mechanics of life (that’s why every book, even if it depicts reality, it is still fiction, it functions not according to actual life but according to how the author remembers and recreates life).
Images and actors simply cannot stand on the same level regarding particularity because an image expresses so much so fast that you can only take every element in as a general one. Seeing a lady on the front porch in a movie can be made so that it moves us a bit, but language can make so that the scene says much more about her state of mind or where the scene fits in the overall story.
When we see the usual comparisons between books and their screenings, the given arguments are not pertinent because instead of referring to the actual process of transforming language into imagery, they are referring to parts of the story that have been left out or changed and really it all depends on everyone’s taste in the ways of storytelling, and not on why language or image better fits the story.
Purpose: Believe it or not, in regards to literature, the purpose is not always taken into consideration as much as it is taken in, let’s say, the working environment. I mean, people do sometimes think about why they are reading, but they often accept the first, most simple, reason that comes to mind – because it enriches your imagination, or your vocabulary, or because you like good stories.
When I really tried to find my individual reason for reading prose, after swiftly passing over the mainstream ones, I came out empty handed. I can better enrich my imagination with cool SF movies. I can add more words to my vocabulary by reading philosophy, science or technological books. I can find intricate and complex mind blowing stories in movies as well, and I can also leave the cinema room with new thoughts about the progression of mankind, the interconnectedness of all human beings.
It took me to this day to come with an answer, maybe far from the actual one, but one that truly makes literature distinct from any other entertaining materials in the purpose category.
The reason I read now is, on the one hand, curiosity, regarding the building process though which author creates his world (and it’s credibility level), and on the other, reading so many personal worlds largely builds up your empathetic capacity. The particularities through which authors create their characters are often the ones that we fail to see in the different people we interact with. Understanding Dostoyevsky’s lower class characters can really leave an impression on how bitter people you see everyday got to be that way and it can make the common ground you share with them instead of the arrogant distance you place between them and you.
If you think this is world is cruel and absurd at times, it is all because of failed communication, and communication depends on empathy and respect. Read if you want to grow as an emotional being that you are and the world around you will respond in the same manner !