Why Literature?

Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru

Writer, Novelist and Nobel Prize Winner for Literature

(Submitted by the author)

We live in an era of knowledge specialisation, due to the prodigious development of science and technology, and the fragmentation of knowledge into innumerable paths and compartments, a cultural trend that will only be accentuated in years to come. Of course, specialisation brings great benefits, offering much more detailed research and experimentation; it is the engine of progress. But it also has a negative effect: it elides all those common denominators of culture through which men and women co-exist, communicate and feel a sense of solidarity.

Specialisation leads to a lack of social communication, to the division of people into cultural ghettoes of technicians and specialists. They share a language, codes and information that are increasingly specialised and specific, which limits them in a way that the old proverb has warned us against: they can’t see the wood for the trees. And knowing that the wood exists is what binds a society together and prevents it from collapsing into a myriad of solipsistic parts. And solipsism - in nations or in individuals - produces paranoia and delirium, these disfigurements of reality that can cause hatred, wars and genocide.

In our day and age, science and technology are increasingly divorced from broader culture, precisely because of the infinite complexity of its knowledge and the speed of its evolution, which has led to specialisation and the use of hermetic language.

Literature, by contrast, is, has been, and will continue to be for as long as it exists, one of the common denominators of human existence through which human beings recognise themselves and talk to each other, no matter how different their professions or their plans for life, their geographical location, their individual circumstances or the historical moment that they are living in.

Those of us who read Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante or Tolstoy understand each other and feel part of the same species because, in the works that these writers created, we learn what we share as human beings, what is common in all of us beneath the wide range of differences that separate us. And there is no better defence against the stupidity of prejudice, racism, xenophobia, religious or political sectarianism or autarkic nationalism than this invariable truth that appears in all great literature: that men and women from across the world are equal, and that it is unjust that they are subject to discrimination, repression and exploitation.

Nothing teaches us better than literature to see, in ethnic and cultural differences, the richness of our shared heritage, and to prize these differences as a demonstration of our diverse creativity. Reading good literature is enjoyable, of course; but we also learn, in that direct and intense way that we experience life through fictions, what and how we are, our human integrity, our actions and dreams and fantasies, alone or in the dense web of relations that link us to others, in our public persona and in the intimacy of our consciousness, that complex sum of contrary truths - in the words of Isaiah Berlin - that make up the human condition.

Image credit: http://www.realtvnews.com.ar/contenido/Mario-Vargas-Llosa-BIO_9131398.jpg



Submitted by Roy Scarbrough on Sun, 11/07/2010 - 17:35.

Thanks for posting this. I'm reminded of the narrator in Vargas Llosa's "The Storyteller" who travels from Peru to Italy in an effort to forget his 'unfortunate country and also lose himself in the literature of Dante and Machiavelli, but is then struck by the images of Peruvian Indians he finds in the photographs he chances upon in a small gallery near Dante's 'restored house'. There is a discovery of kinship in the impulse to tell stories, even with homeland estrangement.

Submitted by Claire Terry on Mon, 11/08/2010 - 19:30.

Love your blog, by the way!

Submitted by Claire Terry on Mon, 11/08/2010 - 19:19.

Thank you for your very interesting and thought-provoking comment, Roy.

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