A Case for Literature: Our Most Empathetic Artistic Experience
June 27 2016
A Case for Literature: Our Most Empathetic Artistic Experience

There are many ways to spend time. At this point, technological development has given the average person a spate of possibilities.  You’d be hard pressed in finding someone who doesn’t digest some form of art on a daily basis.  We are constantly surrounded by art.  From music and film, to visual graphics on an advertisement, art stands at a countless amount of junctures. Yet, even with art’s immediacy, where one can consume art within seconds, a case can still be made for the importance of the long-form narrative, or literature. 

Fundamentally, literature — whether confronted as an entertaining escape or as a critical exercise — cannot be passed without active engagement.  Overall, it is a simplistic art form since a writer has nothing more than language at his or her disposal. Only sight and comprehension is required to enjoy it.  Even then, literature does not offer an externalized visual picture for the reader. Instead, the reader has to internalize the imagery and descriptions proffered. We only see the words on the page; we are never given a pictorial reality. This universal experience forces the reader into the space the writer has created. The reader must bridge the gap between him or herself and the writer. It cannot be done passively. For this reason, literature garners the most empathetic experience. The gap between the writer and the reader is closer than that of the filmmaker and viewer, the musician and listener. 

Literature occupies a space between the reader and the writer. This lacuna has to be approached by both for a rewarding experience. The two occupants have to extract pieces from themselves to bridge this gap and occupy the same space. A writer copies him or herself into the work, whether it is an intention or not. Throughout the duration of the text, the reader is transposed from the everyday into the world the book inhabits. The reader coalesces with the writer and lives throughout the narrative inside the mind of the protagonist or the writer. This forced extraction that lasts throughout the duration of the exercise is ultimately inimitable in other art forms. 

Film, by and large, can be defined as a visual experience. Aside from the shorter timeframe, which limits the amount the viewer spends within the world or learns about its occupants, film unfurls at a distance. A viewer can project himself or herself upon the characters like in literature, but because of the concrete visualization of actual characters and setting, there cannot be an imaginative submergence.  Everything occurs upon the screen.  Everything progresses atop a visual projection that cannot be approached. The viewer is not an active participant in the film’s world. Film does many things that literature cannot, but it will never be the prolonged excursion into the mind of the artist that literature provides.     

Music, albeit not a usual form for narrative, does provide an untethered glimpse into the musicians mind. It succeeds where film fails. It is based upon raw emotions and ideas, semi-formulated expressions that are not hindered by language. It is very much a free art form. There’s even an argument to be made that music goes farther than literature in its relative proximity to the listener. Music, though, is hampered by its ethereality. People use language to communicate. Certain things cannot be expressed through music because of its impermeability.  How one listener interprets a piece of music can vary greatly from another listener. The listener is not given a reliable passageway to the musician. In addition, music is mostly ephemeral. The short synapsis does not allow the listener to ruminate for an extended amount of time. Music gives us a quick and immediate surge into the nondescript world of the musician, but it lacks the same excavation of literature. 

Literature gives us the stories humanity has always yearned for and will continue to seek. For some, it will never be the preferred art form, but it will always have a place in society. The narrative has lasted for thousands of years and will never be expunged. Longer television series now cover some of the motifs of literature: character progression, multiple story lines, expansive insight. But there will always be a disconnect between the artist and the enthusiast. Literature has always and will always be a part of our human ritual. 

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” — George R.R. Martin

 

Alejandro Font

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