What Literature Reveals

In Tolstoy’s masterpiece Anna Karenina, the tortured title character Anna says:

“How I should like to know other people
as I know myself. Am I better than other people
or worse? I think I am worse.”

It is an ironic confession for Anna to make, since she is not a person at all of course but a fictional character.

And yet Anna Karenina is confessing what we want most in real life — to know how we stack up against other people, so that we might know what sort of people we are ourselves.

The problem we have is that we all lead such secret lives.

The British novelist and critic E.M. Forster points out that shame and politeness often keep us from sharing our essence with the people closest to us.

As a result, virtually everything that passes for intimacy between us is actually approximation.

But in great literature there is true communion with a character.

Take Anna Karenina. What is fictional about her is not so much that she is the invention of Tolstoy, but that she reveals herself to us so much more completely than people do in real life.

The way we can look into Anna’s mind and see the competing thoughts in her head, the way we can plunge into Anna’s heart and feel the emotions shift between extremes is fictitious in the sense that we never witness a person’s true inner workings so intimately in real life.

This is what makes reading great literature so profitable for us. It brings us closer to life than any experience we can have.

Are we good? Are we as bad as everyone else? Are we worth anything?   

The revolutionary thing about New Q literature is that the secret life is open to us. It is open for us to examine, open for us to contemplate, open for us to explore and experience and exploit. 

In this way, New Q literature delivers what other fiction cannot. It offers not only entertainment but engagement; not only enrichment but enlightenment.

We get to know others so deeply that we begin to see our real selves.

At last.

New Q literature reveals nothing less than who we are. And that is certainly something worth knowing.