Why Read Literature?

Four

VIRTUAL REALITIES ARE GOOD FOR YOU

As I have said, the notion that literature gives access to a virtual reality not otherwise knowable does not have much currency these days. It will seem a bizarre, absurd, or mystified idea to many or to most. It will seem absurd, that is, except to someone who happens to have an unusual gift for reflecting on what happens when he or she reads a literary work. Nor would this concept of literature seem, to most people these days, a sufficient justification for reading works said to be literature. Nevertheless, I claim that this is reason enough. Human beings not only have a propensity to dwell in imaginary worlds. They have a positive need to do so. This need is not in itself unhealthy.

The power of those metaworlds to determine action and judgment in the “real” world, however, sometimes bad action and bad judgment, should not be underestimated. The need to enter some virtual reality will be satisfied in one way or another - if not by literary works, then by computer games, or by films, or by popular songs in video format. It is difficult to imagine a human culture that would not have story-telling or song in some medium or other, oral, handwritten, printed, cinematic, or digital. What we call literature in the modern Western sense of the word just happens to be an important form of the imaginary. It was a form developed during the

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On Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • One - What is Literature? 1
  • Two - Literature as Virtual Reality 24
  • Three - The Secret of Literature 46
  • Four - Why Read Literature? 81
  • Five - How to Read Literature 115
  • Six - How to Read Comparatively, or Playing the Mug's Game 132
  • Index 160
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