Each of us is more or less well-versed in Literature. We know what literature is--fiction, poetry, drama, and many other things we like. More discerning critics may pick on our taste; they may even dismiss it as useless. The reason is only that the layman's taste is comparatively crude, while the taste of someone of a higher intellectual level is aesthetic. In other words, the layman simply enjoys literature, while the critic also admires it; for there is a great difference between enjoyment and admiration. Admiration embodies enjoyment, but enjoyment does not embody admiration. It lacks the flavor of intellectual appreciation. The critic studies literature from its human point of view and social background. The aesthetic sense is indeed there--it is the first, though not the only, thing in the study of literature. For literature is nothing if it is not art.
What is the purpose of the literature? A mention has just been made of the human perspective of literature, which is essentially human. According to Hudson, literature lives by virtue of life it embodies. But in what way does it draw upon life? Is it content with merely recording facts? That is chronicling and nothing else. Does it end with propagating views and thoughts? That is pamphleteering, nothing more than a battle drum, meant for temporary excitement. Does it deal with only one aspect of life? Then where does literature differ from other sciences; for each science deals with one particular branch. Literature then will be human in a very limited sense.
The question stands there still: What is literature? Arnold Bennett comes up with a beautiful answer, which sums up the whole creation of art and literature. Firstly, literary production is an inner urge. Secondly, it is a creative process. Thirdly it is not the work of an average mind. Lastly, it is a record of our reaction of facts, not simply a record of facts. That’s why arithmetic can’t be literature, while history can; if the historian is not only a chronicler of events, but a chronicler of feelings. Here emerges another thing: all literature is individualistic, personal, to the very backbone.
So literature may be defined as an artistic expression of one’s feelings through the medium of language. The word artistic bears the clue. In fact art is not labored and systematically worked out product. It comes quiet naturally where the feeling is intense and the artist is sincere.
Suppose you are traveling with a very close friend of yours, he is your confidant; so much so that you have never kept your very personal secrets from him. But there is one thing you want to keep to yourself. You are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to speak. Finally you utter, "Fairy, oh, really fairy." You produce literature; usually no girl can be called a fairy, but your love makes her look like a fairy-at least in your eyes. Among so many things in the world, it is this one thing that has attracted your senses. You are full of a sense of discovery for others. Your friend, on the other hand, is equally thrilled by the power to believe it and by the sincerity of your words; and at that moment he is forced to believe that your love really is a fairy.
The above example has indeed given literature one of its distinctive qualities: rapture. The term "distinctive quality" is used here. Against this it may be said that even the sciences bring delight to those who study them. But it should be noted that here the rapture is relative. In literature it is absolute and very different from the rapture delivered by science. In fact, in terms of science, "delight" is just a misnomer. Delight can only be obtained in literature; for it is something more sublime and more refined. In the sciences there is simply a raw pleasure that can be called "interest." After all, there is a great difference between interest and pleasure. Do we derive as much pleasure from the sciences as we do from contemplating a beautiful face?
This might lead us to the conclusion that all literature is like an opium, providing a refuge from the cares of life. This is the contradiction of literature: it is part of life, and at the same time it serves as a refuge from it. It is feared that the average reader studies literature from this perspective. But we must believe that this refuge is temporary. What lasts is the human interest in literature. We unconsciously draw in what the author has to say; and that is what constantly vibrates in our minds. Take a novel, you take pleasure in reading it; you are constantly illuminated by a sense of joy. But what is the real process, the real reaction going on in your mind? Throughout the novel you feel sympathy or antipathy for the characters in the novel, even for them, whatever it may be. In this process, you are not only drawing out the life presented in the novel, but also commenting on it. Isn't that the goal of literature?
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