Encountering Self and Fostering Community
Literature does not change the world, but it can alter our relationship to the world. Literature allows us to enter other minds and other landscapes and to adopt fresh outlooks. It is a conversation with earth, sky, and other individuals – persons dead and persons living. Literature is a remembrance of times past, while at the same time it holds a mirror to the present and provides glimpses of the future. In this way, literature encourages complex thinking; it fosters empathy and enables us to evaluate the merits of our actions through understanding how others have acted.
The world presented by language – be it by novels, stories, or poems – arises from the formative powers of language. At the heart of every writing attempt lives this question as an open secret: How does idea become reality through narration? If, as readers, we shift our attention from the What to the How – to the hammer and sparks of word-smithing – “how is it done?” – then we can better comprehend this creative process. The word, as formative power, has spiritual affinity with those creative powers from which the world has its origin – and the reader and the writer share in this formative power.
Works of world literature from the Middle Ages to the present time are used as examples to show how literature variously inspires and stimulates these creative, formative powers in the human being.