Literary Shelf

The Purpose and Use of Literature in Life

Literature is the dictionary of life. Liberty is understood and sought for through knowledge only.  The importance of literature mainly lies in bringing out this sort of realization in everyone.   Every nation has classical literary master pieces that are helpful for the development of mind and character.  In India Mahabharata and Ramayana are best examples to quote for that purpose because it is true to say that what is not in them is nowhere to be found as they clearly say that based on dharma or justice life has to be lead and enjoyed before attaining absolute state at the end.

Comprehensive Education for complete Personality development

Education that does not provide scope for the understanding of Human Nature, Culture, Literature and Social Life but gives importance to Science only or Arts only without linking the two will only turn out immature and incomplete citizens. Through education what are most expected and needed are a society of individuals with human value and not a herd of machine-beast-like-men who aspire for high achievements in terms of material value only.  Education that kindles the individuals to aspire for the cultural advancement in life enriches human value in the world and this alone can lead men towards perfection, which has the power to appreciate beauty in everything, bring out the truth in everything, disseminate love and joy everywhere and manifest divinity everywhere.

The lucky few who have tasted the pleasure of pondering over things of their own interests or desires, or thinking over things in quest of new ideas or truths just in moments of enthusiasm due to some unexpectedly favourable circumstances, there will be a great world of wonders waiting for them to explore, discover, invent and create.  Such few lucky persons only are capable of analyzing what they have studied to find out whether there is truth in them or not, preserving things of interest or rejecting irrelevant things contrary to their convictions and developing upon the preserved knowledge some new ideas or truths with pleasure are the really learned men, who can go ahead freely and independently with a spirit of adventure in any field in the world! So, education should give training to all in agriculture and industries should develop the particular talents of individuals in sciences and arts and utilize them in the creative direction.

Human Culture, the Expression of Literature

Animals don’t lead a determined or planned way of living. But the life of human being is entirely different. From experience man learns a lot, gains knowledge out of it and gets wisdom as time passes on. From the usual activities he forms a routine for himself. In the routine life he follows a system without affecting the privileges, rights and liberties of other people or society. In the routine life he covers all aspects of human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education, work, entertainment, arts, music, books, Nature, God, etc. and tries to achieve harmonious human perfection or a satisfying completion in life and this sort of living only is usually expressed in literature as human culture. Culture differentiates and ennobles human being from others.

According to E.M. Forster in his essay, DOES CULTURE MATTER? human culture provides “the power to understand and enjoy” all the best things of life like books, pictures and music and without that the chance of connecting work and play to create a life with all in one facility is impossible.

Poet and critic Matthew Arnold noted for his famous view that literature is criticism of life in his book, CULTURE AND ANARCHY says that culture for an individual lies in the love for and the study of perfection which is a harmonious expansion of all the powers which make the beauty and the worth of human nature and the pursuit of perfection is the pursuit of “Sweetness and Light, the reason and the Will of God” and the Hellenistic knowledge of the Greek Classical beauty for the achievement of excellence in human nature and the Hebraic idea of Jewish action of fulfilling the Will of God. He also says that human spirit behind all the great works of literature, art, science and religion aims at harmonious human perfection leading towards the development of all sides of humanity.

Poet Robert Browning whose concern with the evolution of individual soul in his poems like Pauline, Paracelsus, Sordella and Asolando has worked out the idea of synthesis of knowledge and love leading to the perfection of man. Therefore it is clear to say that only when such a human perfection is achieved through human culture, real freedom can be obtained and as a result of that happiness, peace and satisfaction can be achieved in life.

Hence human culture simply means that it is the love for, the study of and the pursuit of all round human perfection and it can be completely interpreted that human culture is thinking about or knowing, speaking or expressing about and doing the best things of human endeavour in many fields like Literature, Arts, Science, etc. of the past relevant to the present and “enjoying ourselves those unique and priceless things” and spreading such living truths to the intimates, friends and fellow men we love in order to make those precious things live in the future too.

Forms of Literature

Literature is the exact form of art for many years. The output of books in literature is surpassing the production of books in other branches of knowledge. This is perhaps due to the fact expressed by John Milton in his Aropagitica that “a good book is the precious life blood of a master spirit embalmed and treasured up on purpose for a life beyond life.” The main purpose of good and great literature is to entertain and instruct the people and make the world a better place to live than before. Example for this kind of literature, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Valmiki’s Ramayana, Vyasa’s Mahabharata, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Goethe’s Faust can be quoted.

These were long, descriptive, dramatic, philosophic, poetic, Classic literatures of the world. The writers of the Classical literatures were following certain conventions of their time. Classic literatures were formal, social and intellectual in nature. They dealt with various types of characters in general, moral principles and universal truths. They reflected the civilisation, culture, life and activities of the people of that time. They touched the heart and made the mind to think.

After these the style of writing literature had changed everywhere. Then Romantic literature had prevailed for sometime in the form of poetry and novels. But the writers of the Romantic literatures were informal, individual, and emotional in their works. They questioned the very basis of conventional or moral ideas and strived for ultimate truths. They dealt with the internal problems of the heart of the individuals in particular. Their intention was rather to amuse or please in poetry than to advise or instruct or guide the readers.

The stream of consciousness of Virginia Wolf, blood consciousness of D.H. Lawrence and dream fantasies of poets and novelists have enlarged the scope of original writings in literature preferring emotional utterances as expressions of art to artistic expressions of emotions paving the way for the expressions of personalities rather than artistic skills in literature.

 Now the forms of literature remaining in practice are novels, prose and criticisms including journalism are called as modern literature. Modern literature has emerged. Modern literatures are full of ideas, incidences, episodes and actions dealing with the superficial and social aspects of human life having no concern for lifelike characters, human touch, human values and human culture. Modern writers investigate and report. Their duty is to thrill and fascinate the people in exposition.

So, the present day works of writings simply strip off everything naked and expose them without a spot for concealment in the name of journalism. Hence, pornographic writings are popularly large in numbers and all the forms of literature are out of the focus of the people as literature is felt to be a useless stuff before the electronic computer introduced by scientists which can produce poems, essays, novels, dramas, etc. in innumerable quantities in no time now!

Science in Literature

Indeed scientific methods, approach, attitude and temper have helped literature much to unravel the mysteries of human behaviours or activities due to mental illnesses or psychological problems which were not noticed earlier before the authentic treatises on psychological discoveries about human beings by Sigmund Freud, Jung and others were made known to the world. The famous characters from Shakespeare’s plays, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels, Eugene O’Neill’s dramas, etc. are some of the instances of psychological cases which cannot be neglected as useless stuffs of literature by the modern people.

Love, Knowledge for Freedom

Apart from the love between man and women from the love of material things, abstract things, etc. the enhancement or the decrease of human values can be ascertained. When we are reading the works of poets, philosophers, intellectuals, we can understand very well where their love lies. For example if we read the works of Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Shakespeare, Milton, Spinoza, Jesus and Machiavelli, we can understand what love of beauty, Nature, liberty, perfection, greatness, intellect, love and power is respectively. From this we can say that love means devotion, desire, natural inclination and interest, which is the beginning for everything and without which nothing can be achieved in the world. This kind of love is the best diversion from tension, anxiety, worries and fear for anyone towards attaining a sense of relief or freedom. Actually by this way only intellect of man might have improved and overcome all kinds of fear. In this respect knowledge of this nature independently or through education is needed for all for getting freedom in the real sense.

Synthesis of Love and Knowledge for Freedom,
Joy, Peace and Satisfaction

Knowledge, wealth and power are needed for the world life. Anyone of the three alone cannot solve and fulfil problems and commitments of life. But without knowledge other resources cannot be wisely utilised for the betterment of oneself or the world. With high knowledge, power may be gained but human perfection cannot be achieved. Therefore according to Robert Browning by the synthesis of love and knowledge only perfection of individual soul can be achieved. Also, according to Matthew Arnold harmonious human perfection can be achieved only by culture, since culture is nothing but the “love for and the study of perfection” in thoughts, words and deeds.

It is a fact that human efforts in the field of science and technology, wonderful expressions in literature and religious services are various ways of doing works not for material benefits or recognition but for spiritual satisfaction. Further freedom got from the synthesis of love and knowledge leading towards perfection only helps man to enjoy life with joy, peace and satisfaction. In addition to that the main aspects of human nature such as the sense of goodness, beauty and truth are also fulfilled by way of culture and more than anything else the best thing to do in the world is to pass on such knowledge of culture to others generation after generation.

Knowledge, Vision, Ambition and Achievement

In general getting knowledge through education, doing a suitable job to accrue wealth, enjoying the pleasures of life by indulging in entertainment after work and devoting retirement life in spiritual pursuits in order to satisfy spiritual needs are the usual or settled way of living for all the people. But human nature is such that not satisfied with what man inherently has, tries for completion in life aspiring high due to his mind to break his limitations and achieves perfection in order to have a change in evolution. Just acquiring knowledge is not enough for one to become powerful to solve all problems of life and attain perfection and liberation.

Intellectually musing over things of life, man, world, Nature, etc., one is sure to get visions, dreams, ideas, etc. quite institutional in nature of the past, the present and the future. Without such dreams or visions one cannot become an ambitionist to lead a happy and successful life. In fact ambition is the driving force that helps to overcome hardships and difficulties and turn a dull and insipid life into an interesting and noble one because of its inspiring power that gives the hope that life is worth living at least to know the noble things of life if not to achieve noble things in the world for oneself or for others. Therefore it is clear that ambition based on intellectual Vision will certainly fructify into a noble achievement which we see in the great works of literature in the world. For example the poetic works of Robert Browning, W.B. Yeats and William Wordsworth can be quoted.

Browning – Synthesis of Love and Knowledge for Perfection

At first Browning thought that the end and aim of life is to attain power by acquiring highest knowledge. He realised that knowledge can only be a means to reach the mind of God but with love, which is the creative cause of Universe and God itself, it is possible to touch the infinite power between God and man. So, with the synthesis of knowledge and love perfection of man can be achieved. Therefore the purpose of life is to achieve perfection in life through love, art, music, paintings, poetry, etc. if not in the world at least in heaven since “arc” here is “full circle in heaven.” If perfection is achieved here itself what is the use of the existence of a heaven at all? Hence the highest ideal for man could be only perfection in art, music, poetry, love, soul, etc. Even if the forces spoil the efforts towards perfection, highest goal or ideals should not be relinquished for earthly pleasures or material or trivial things, as failure to achieve perfection is not so important for God as the care, devotion and efforts involved for the achievement of lofty or noble ideals. This philosophy of life can be seen in many of his poems such as Abt Vogler, the Ride Together, Andre Del Sarto, etc.

Yeats – Vision, Map of Inner Life

Man’s thoughts, knowledge, love and life are bounded by space and time of the world and he is born to deal with the problems connected with it and die. There is no escape from it and this is his destiny. If he escapes he may reach a timeless and formless pure state of perfection in the other world. The VISION of W.B. Yeats is all about that, which he symbolically expresses as a spiraling cone with the broad base representing the mortal life of man and apex representing the spiritual life of man. The map of his inner life, philosophy and religion is his VISION, basing which he wrote mostly all of his poems. Among them SAILING TO BYZANTIUM and BYZANTIUM are the simple, philosophic and difficult master pieces nobody can fail to quote. For John Keats heard melodies are sweet but unheard melodies are sweeter. But for W.B. Yeats unheard melodies may be sweeter but the heard melodies are always sweet. Especially Sailing to Byzantium is expressed as the realised views of an old man who is about to die.

Sensuous Animate Nature and Permanence of Spiritual Art

The old man in this poem faces the problems of old age, death and regeneration and finally gives his decision. He says that this world is not for the old but for the young only. Here young lovers, birds on the tree and fish of the sea, ‘Fish, flesh or fowl,” etc. sing songs in praise of mortal sensual song without caring for the ageless intellect or wisdom, which is treated as monuments only. Here animate nature is devoid of spirit or spiritually passive. On the other hand the old man is both physically and spiritually impotent, a mere paltry thing, an effigy, tattered cloth upon a stick. But he realises that all the monument like things are teaching him the magnificence of soul.

He rejoices by this realisation and sails to Byzantium, the world of spirit. There he prays for the sages of God’s holy fire, the singing masters to descend spinning in a circular motion to relieve the soul from the body by burning the heart with the holy fire without leaving it in the dead body so that the desire in it for sensual passion shall be totally eradicated and then the soul released from the natural thing can take birth not in the body form of some neutral thing but in the external form of an art. He wants the goldsmith to make him into a golden bird on the golden bough to sing the song of eternity to the Emperor (poet), lords and ladies of Byzantium (his native place) praising the eternal spiritual love forever. Yeats simply says through this poem that the animate nature is devoid of spirit and temporary only but the inanimate art, poetry created by him is full of spirit and is immortal and permanent!

Utopian Dreams made into Realities by Literature

There are esemplastic writings in literature by S.T. Coleridge, poetry like novels by Virginia Woolf, novel of blood consciousness by D.H. Lawrence, stream of consciousness novel by James Joyce, etc. which are beyond the scope of man to understand due to their obscurity or indecipherability. Psychological novels by Alfred Hitchcock, etc., and dream like writings of Salmon Rushdie, etc. are modern writings. Novels of scientific adventures by authors like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, etc. and novels of Utopian dreams by Francis Bacon, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell have become realities. So many discoveries and inventions have been achieved after such writings. Yesterday’s dreams with the development of human knowledge in science and technology since 200 years have come true today and will come true in the future also!


More by :  T. A. Ramesh

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