“Literature,” Trilling wrote, “is the human activity that takes the fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity and difficulty.” Henry James, Austen, Coleridge, and Shakespeare (“King Lear” was the pinnacle of Trilling’s qualities), not to mention modernists from Proust to Kafka, from Woolf to Celine: their books are sanctuaries of anti-closure and infinite perspective, of right and wrong mashed together and dissolved. (By Lee Siegel, Is the News Replacing Literature? from The New Yorker blog, February 13, 2014)
Someone once said that psychiatrists would wisely refer their patients, following treatment, to their priests, rabbis, or imams, the spiritual mentors of their patients.
One has to wonder, today, not if the news is replacing literature, but if, following psychiatric treatment and medication, those patients would not be wisely, professionally and pragmatically referred to the classics of literature, if Trilling's encompassing circumscription has any validity, as we believe it certainly does.
"The fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity and difficulty" goes as far as the mind/heart/spirit can grasp into the world opposite to the one in which we live, where single-minded purpose, the pursuit of power/money/greed, has so reduced the human search for its opposite, that we are left with both a heroine addiction and a suicide fixation, especially among the adolescent population. Did you know that 1 in 5 United States adolescents has tried or succeeded in taking his/her own life? Did you know that heroine addiction is so prevalent in Vermont that the Governor devoted his entire State of the State address to the problem and its treatment.
We are over-regulated, over-organized and over-programmed to become not only "our personal best" but "the best" in the whole world, without flaws, faults, doubts or even confusions. We are living in a period when, with greed in dominance (not merely the ascendancy) any who are the least bit less than overwhelmed by the collective motive to become wealthy, and even question their "difference" from that norm, preferring a more reflective and a more imaginative and a more community-based life, are stampeded to their emotional and spiritual unconscious, without a notice being extended by the growing stampede.
Power seekers, like their power-broker mentors, despise those who prefer to sing, or to draw, or to dance, or to write poetry unless and until that art produces enough money for them to notice, and then it suddenly becomes the object of their investment portfolios, for "bragging rights" that might accompany its acquisition.
All my life, I have been struck, in the face, by the observations, "You are reading more into what is happening than is intended" and "you are far too sensitive" and "you are much too intense for me" from a conventional culture seeking, for the most part, either to humour me or to modify and change my character, to better fit their picture of how those speakers would like me to be.
Corporatism has virtually erased from the cultural landscape the eccentric, the hobo, the iconoclast and the stories of the aunt or the uncle whose life was so embarrassing that it was told only in the most secret of circumstances. Today, even those stories are verbotten, even in private. And, at the same time, as has been observed by many others, "we photoshop our lives" on the internet, painting pictures of how wonderful we are, how magnificent are our accomplishments, and how endearing our personalities really are...according to the most valid authority, ME!" That is precisely why I have taken down both my twitter account and my facebook page. And I will not ressurrect either of them!
Literature introduces us to people we would otherwise never meet, for example the old man and young boy in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. In it we enter a December-May companionship in the Caribbean fishing village, following many days and a single, devoured marlin catch, that most of us will never have the opportunity to experience.
In Othello, we encounter a man deeply and unreservedly in love, who discovers to his horror, through the nefarious plotting of his un-promoted and vindictive colleague, Iago, that the love of his life is cheating on him. Jealousy, one of the ingredients of all of our lives, nevertheless, has more meaning, depth and emotional impact after our encounter with the black African and his scheming villain, exposed finally by his own spouse. In fact, it is for many a touchstone against which we compare other experiences of jealousy, and not only the "green monster's" emergence in love triangles.
Failing to accommodate the inordinate ambition of at least two geriatric adults who wished to become leaders in small churches, and rejecting those ambitions in favour of less ambitious and more humble and more spiritually committed and disciplined others, produced in both instances, high and vindictive and remorseless retribution, choreographed almost entirely by those rejected neo-Iago's of the twenty-first century.
To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch stands tall among the great litigators of American literature, a man whose instincts and compassion and wisdom feed all those who have the opportunity to sit with him on a porch for an afternoon, and just listen to his gravel larynx spill volumes of manuscripts that would fell the most ambitious doctoral dissertation in any competitive arena dedicated to the common sense and the humanity of the human being.
Margaret Laurence's Hagar Shipley, in A Stone Angel, stubborn, proud, defiant, a strangely comingled stew of social justice, parental defiance and haughty indifference refuses a glass of water in her hospital bed at ninety-one, taking it herself, as a signal that she is not dead yet, in spite of her deteriorating condition, only a decade later than the day she began to smoke because she was so bored.
These are people who walk with us everyday, through the laneways of our walks and our drives, through the corridors of our office buildings and our mall hallways, and into the doctors' and dentists' and lawyers' offices, and sit on our shoulders listening to and smiling at our pomposity, our fastidiousness, our feckless ambitions never to be fully realized without their full support. They are part of our lives, as we can never be a part of theirs. And for them we are and remain so grateful to their creators, their partners in the theatre of their imaginations, as we inherit their estates, without a passing glance to the tax man, for their gifts are free, life-long, and undying, demonstrating unequivocally the generosity of spirit of their author-writers.
We not only pay homage to their writers but also to them for their wisdom, their courage, their insights and their engrossing and enrapturing quiet time as we meandered our way through the pages of their triumphs, tragedies, hopes and frustrations on our own journey through our's.