Alain de Botton and his school of savants The School of Life “devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture” (a MENSA equivalent of the University of Life, I guess), has shared with us a fun animation that answers the question “What exactly is literature good for?” And it produces four concise answers: It saves you time; it makes you nicer; it’s a cure for loneliness; it prepares you for failure.

For the first, the rationale runs: “Literature is the greatest reality simulator — a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.” And, it continues, “It lets you feel – safely, that’s important – what it’s like to get divorced, or kill someone.”

Secondly, “Literature performs the basic magic of what things look like though someone else’s point of view; it allows us to consider the consequences of our actions on others in a way we otherwise wouldn’t.” 

Thirdly, there is the inner monologue that is no longer inner. “In books we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events, described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves.”

And then finally, “a lot of literature is also about failure — in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up… Great books don’t judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media.”

Probably most Teleread readers don’t need to see literature justify itself. But it’s good, and fun, to have this all the same.

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