The modern age has been chastised to a great degree for the distance it has put between itself and the consumption of literature. As a Cultural Centre in Pune we can say with confidence that the readership of books and the number of people who actually take an active interest in reading books, periodicals, newspapers, magazines or journals has gone down.
With the advent of the internet, the proliferation of visual media and entertainment in general being so widespread, people have almost forgotten the joy of reading. But let us take one small step back and try to realize the root of this phenomenon. And to do that we must approach it by the concept which is at its core. Literature!
What is literature?
For the highbrow intellectual literature is indulgence in a higher art form. Just putting words onto paper does not constitute or qualify the work as literature. It needs to be canonical or representative of an entire generation in regards to poetry, prose or drama.
But simply put, literature is a representation of the culture and tradition of human languages and how people use them to communicate. By virtue of it being a concept that evolves and changes with time, the people using it and its context, it is difficult to explain.
So in layman terms, literature is a body of written works. Specifically it is writing that is considered to be an art form deemed to have artistic or intellectual value. Literature, in regards to written works is often books that deploy language in ways that differ from the ordinary usage of language.
Now for the main topic of our discussion, which is the importance of literature and how does it touch our lives?
1. Our World View
First and foremost, literature opens our eyes and makes us see more than just the obvious. It helps us realize the wide world outside, surrounding us. It changes our perspective about things, people and events. It broadens the horizon of our minds and shapes our world view. With this, we begin to learn, ask questions, and build our intuitions and instincts. We expand our minds.
2. Critical Thinking
Many of us learn what critical thinking is in our language classes. When we read, we learn to look between the lines. We are taught to find symbols, make connections, find themes and learn about characters. Consuming literature expands these skills, and we begin to look at texts with a larger sense of detail and depth and realize the importance of hidden meanings.
Then there is the aspect of the relationship with the past. This is perhaps the most critical functions of literature. History and literature are entwined with each other. History is not just about power struggles, wars, names, and dates. It is about people who are products of their time, with their own lives. Today the world is nothing like it was in the last century or the one before that; people have changed largely. We ourselves are an arts and literature space and we conduct regular monthly Storytelling Events in Pune. That in itself is a way to stay connected with our past because literature also encompasses storytelling. Without literature, we would not know about our past, the people who came before and walked on the same ground as us. Literature preserves this link, this bond between us and the past. Without it, we would be lost.
4. Acceptance and Empathy
Reading about history, anthropology, or religious studies provides a method of learning about cultures and beliefs other than our own. It allows you to understand experience and empathize with people, cultures and places that are different than our own. One could get a closer look at the lives of others without even being present physically in said situation. We get a view of the inside looking out, a personal view and insight into the minds and reasoning of someone else. We can learn, understand, and appreciate it.
5. Better writing skills
How can one expect to become a better writer without being a voracious reader? If writing is the end product then reading must be the raw material. It is fodder for the mind. When you open a book, when your eyes read the words and you take in its contents, do you ask yourself: How did this person imagine and write this? Well, many of those authors, poets, or playwrights used literature to expand their writing. Critical theory is a field of literature where one dissects works of classical and contemporary literature in a bid to improve one selves understanding about the art and skill of writing well.
6. The Human Condition
All literature, whether those are poems, essays, novels, or short stories, helps us address human nature. The human condition is a constant need for growth, our doubts and fears of success and failure, the need for company be it friends or family, our trials and tribulations, the goodness of compassion and empathy, the need to be loved and to love back in return, wanting to trust people around us, or the realization of imperfection. Human beings are capable of so much emotion and all of that reflects in our literature. Literature is that outlet. Literature is humankind expressing itself in the most honest way. It addresses our undeniable pathological need to share. We need literature in order to connect with our own humanity.
There’s much more to literature than one could possibly hope to contain within a blog post. It is hundreds and hundreds of years of human knowledge, craftsmanship and pure unbridled creativity. Having said all that, if you are reading this; it only goes to say that there is still hope. But what is more important is to support spaces that encourage reading. Spaces like RAAH. We house a completely equipped and well stocked library that boasts of a variety of titles and seminal works across all genres. Look us up online to check out any other Upcoming Culture Activities in Pune that you might be interested in.