Human Sciences and The Arts
Another splendid blog-entry from Stephen Law's site which asks: What have you learned from literature?
A superb question to explore. Law questions the nature of the 'truth' in literature, both fiction or non-fiction. What, if anything, does a novel or biography tell us about human nature or the human condition? At best, literature obfuscates reality, creating an illusion that life is like a story-line with a neat beginning, middle and end. At worst, literature is another medium for clever writers to spin lies, deceit or propaganda and promote dangerous beliefs. In short, the psychological 'insight' into life, the universe and everything that literature promotes is a myth...
In defence of literature, we might counter by arguing that literature should be read simply for entertainment and not to discover some essential truths about human behaviour. We read, because it's a fun way to pass the time or because it helps us to escape from the dreariness of our day to day life or because it's just another thing to do when we're bored. Well alright then, let's not get carried away by the idea that literature is trying to tell us some hidden truths about life.
However, might we not ask the same question about other forms of entertainment media, such as T.V. dramas or soaps, films, theatre plays and music? Do these not purport to give us an insight into ourselves and our world too? We wonder what an episode of 'Coronation Street' tells us about the human condition!
You might argue that you only watch these to switch off from the world - you know, it's fun to watch an episode of 'Big Brother' while you're eating your take-away Chinese. In that case, think about these questions:
why do we choose the entertainment we do in the first place? Why are we attracted to particular types of entertainment like 'Big Brother', murder mystery books or horror films? And what does fiction, whichever form it appears in, actually do for us?