Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why Literature is So Deeply Consequential -- Mark Helprin

New Criterion
"...I began to develop a deep love for what is unfortunately called literature, a ter rible name that sounds affected and preten tious. If you didn’t know the word you might guess that it was a surgical technique or an ancient technical term for part of a thatched roof, not the one word for lan guage that can be as beautiful and hypnotic as song, for a vast summing up, in precious few words, of all that is truly important. It includes snowstorms and sunlit forests pre served in their fullness and depth by a miraculous series of codes that are of such great effect that they can often be more intense than the things they describe. It represents the extraordinary courage of a sole human voice confronting death, pre serving life beyond its term, standing alone, speaking for as long as the code is conserved, even to others who have not yet been born. Is it not astounding that one can love so deeply characters who are com posites, portraits, or born of the thin air, especially when one has never seen or touched them, and they exist only in an imprint of curiously bent lines?
To make a more concise argument, one lives for a very short time, and life is incom parably precious. To live has much less to do with the senses or with ambition than with the asking of questions that have never been surely answered. To ask and then to answer these questions as far as one can one needs above all a priceless and taxing involvement with truth and beauty. These are uncom monly plentiful in music and painting, in nature itself, in the sciences, in history, and in one’s life as it unfolds—if one labors and dares to see them. But nowhere do they run together with such complexity and power as in the gracefully written word. It is not, as so many people mistake it, an element of manners, a cultural obligation, a diversion, or a means of opening the conversation at dinner parties. I have devoted my life to it not because I thought it would be a good way to earn money or because I thought it might be pleasant and interest ing, but, rather, because I love it—and I love it not only because it is so pleasingly beauti ful but because it is so deeply consequential."

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