Monday, July 11, 2016

Literature as Logos

This, so far as I can see, is the specific value or good of literature considered as Logos; it admits us to experiences other than our own. . . . it may be the typical (and we say ‘How true!’) or the abnormal (and we say ‘How strange!’); it may be the beautiful, the terrible, the awe-inspiring, the exhilarating, the pathetic, the comic, or the merely piquant. Literature gives the entrĂ©e to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries to a dog.

This is the next-to-last paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism. How does he do this? How does he put into words everything I’m feeling?

When I read that, I put the book down and sat there for a moment, sobbing.

Why does it hurt so much to be human?

The next paragraph says:

“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.”

Yes. That’s it. “The wound of individuality.” I didn’t know what that feeling was before, but now I do. (This is why I love you so much, dear saint! More than anyone, you help me understand what I’m feeling and thinking.)

But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.