By Daniel Brady
I recently had a conversation with a friend about the role of literature (and journalism – although I do not touch on that here) in our post-truth world, and how he felt they could be held responsible for many of the failures of our society. I decided to write down some of my thoughts and share them.
I am a strong advocate of the belief that literature can heal, mend, build and transform. If language is truly the bedrock of civilization that binds humanity together, literature is the flock of birds that sores above, drawing our gaze upwards to ponder those notions often intangible to us.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: ‘of all that is written, I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit.’ This touches on a crucial aspect of literature – its curious power to simultaneously heal, energize and torture a writer, all whilst invoking raw and unconscious human emotion within a reader. Created through this blissful selflessness, it is the unembellished purity of literature in its recollections of the struggles of humanity that I find myself admiring, and seeking out. When finding oneself wracked with despair and drowned in melancholy, literature helps to confront the tempestuous war that the mind wages with itself. When one finds themselves lost in a world dictated by illusion, literature helps guide us through its pestilent circles, teaching us a fierce reverence for our ability to think as an individual.
Like art and other forms of artistic expression, many may argue that literature in the present day runs the risk of being marred, torn apart and exploited by a popular opinion that is shaped by falsity. That being said, the medium of literature is not to blame for the prevailing power of emotion and belief over fact; it is only accountable for lending itself to the people of a certain time. Ultimately, the power of literature is that it transcends blame; it lends itself unbiasedly to thinkers, explorers and challengers who decipher meaning and expound it. In this sense, one could argue that post-truth ideologies—whether they exist literature or not—are an expression of the yearning society has for a better-connected race, united by the very things which make us human. Whilst our current population claims to be the most connected in the history of our race, we are far from it; pieces of our humanity are gradually being stripped from our discourse and replaced with networks that benefit from the idleness they inculcate. For the sake of progress, we willingly oblige.
In our search for meaning and answers, we have developed ‘blame’ to combat that which we believe is at fault. To blame is to never truly understand, and to blame literature is to turn ones back on what it means to understand ourselves. We cannot simply blame concepts, philosophies or movements for the failures that arise, but must instead continue to probe our own desires and needs. Although this may seem a futile solution, literature has proved itself to be valuable tool to bring about change. Above all—and irrespective of its practical uses—literature exists, and will continue to do so, because it teaches, satisfies and stimulates, all whilst capturing the true essence of what it means to be human. It cannot be tossed aside and disregarded along with other mediums we feel have outlived their usefulness, because to do so would be to tear out our own spirit and sacrifice the pleasures that make us human. It is too fundamental to our existence to be debased, for if language is the loom that weaves the threads of human experience, literature is the golden tapestry that adorns the walls of eternity.
Featured image of Kurt Vonnegut (photo by Gil Friedberg/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images): “I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”