Literature Asks Questions without Offering Answers

Even when writers profess to know nothing about the inner man, they often make the profession in a way which suggests that they really know plenty When D. H. Lawrence says (in his essay on Benjamin Franklin) "The soul of man is a dark forest," he says it with a kind of knowing Satanic smirk, so that the profession of ignorance actually becomes a species of knowledge. When I first read that ominous Lawrence sentence I was young and it was news to me that my soul was a dark forest. For several days I went around with this crushing insight on my mind, until I read some other author, who sent me off in a new direction. When I was a student it seemed as though the only thing I changed more often than my Philosophy of Life was my socks. But through all of my philosophical bypaths and crooked ways, two things consistently stayed with me: my conviction that self-knowledge was crucial and my opinion that it was to be found in the great masterpieces of English literature. Sadder and I hope wiser now, I no longer cleave to either of these views. I don't think that literature can do what psychiatry is supposed to do, and even if it could, it shouldn't.

What does literature do? I believe the infectious energies of great works of art have a way of instilling in us a drive to acquire self-knowledge, but I doubt that such a drive is a virtue, especially when art, which makes us itch with questions, gives us so few answers. Thus a common ailment among those who make a career of letters is an annoying restlessness something like the dementia praecox that we all should have outgrown long ago. But the main trouble with the excessive soul-searching that art inspires in us is not that it yields no answers but that it results in selfcenteredness.


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Benjamin Franklin (0.943378): website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Art (0.916093): dbpedia | freebase
Question (0.891886): dbpedia | freebase
Philosophy (0.866158): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
English-language films (0.815850): dbpedia
Sentence (0.731121): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Mind (0.709399): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Soul (0.659102): dbpedia | freebase

 Why literature is bad for you
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Thorpe, Peter (1980), Why literature is bad for you, Burnham, Retrieved on 2014-09-01
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: literary criticism