On The Dangers of Literature

October 20th, 2008 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

One man stares in the dark abyss of literary example and wonders if great stories truly lift us, or if they might lead us down the wrong path:

I hope you are at least partly convinced by the power of my examples. Somehow, we’ve been sold a bill of goods about how literature empowers us. But the idea that great literature can improve our lives in any way is a con as old as culture itself. The University of Chicago’s Great Books course? Think Tammany Hall. “Willing suspension of disbelief”? Code for: distract him while I lift his wallet. The government regulates drugs, alcohol and (finally) bad lending practices. How long can we continue to allow the totally laissez-faire dissemination of literature? Not even a warning from the surgeon general or the attorney general, or some sort of general, on the back of every book?

File Under: Quote of the Week

2 responses so far ↓

  • Arthur Plotnik // Oct 23, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Okay, as Siegel says he realized in regard to “Herzog,” Saul Bellow was joking—and so, of course, is Siegel. It’s a funny piece, and who couldn’t add an example of how a great work triggered one of their own psychic crashes? When I was at the Iowa Writers Workshop, already dealing with lethal fear of failure, I made the mistake of reading Tolstoy’s classic “The Death of Ivan Ilich”—which sent me screamingly into the night at least six decades before my natural time. To my knowledge, no one ever promised that great literature was uplifting, except in the solace that comes from shared suffering. From that perspective, we could all names scores of works which, if not rocketing us through the empyrean, at least helped pull us from the edge of the abyss. Not to mention that a well wrought sentence is my particular Ecstasy.

  • Ted // Oct 27, 2008 at 9:04 am

    There are a book’s worth of comments possible on the article. The basic critique to literature is the claim that you shouldn’t live by bread (material things) alone, but of course 99.9 % of us DO live by material things alone. You can, though, learn some things to help your own psychic life, as many of the novelists are expert psychologists—-Proust among them. About Conrad, well, in his novel “Nostromo” the protagonist, Decoud, couldn’t bear solitude and jumped out of his boat waiting for help and drowned himself. He couldn’t bear the solitude and being “alone with his thoughts.” Finally, you should remember that writing, especially poems, is a natural activity of the literate mind, akin to the reason birds sing or wolves howl at the moon—–But you should be prepared, unless you have institutional backing or lots of money, to write for your own integrity and hope that posterity recognizes what you did.