Man’s Need Of Narration and the Apology of Literature

Think about the first man who looked up to the sky. Then, think about the first one who suddenly saw the open sea in front of him or about the one biting a fruit who, first, discovered not only the need of eating but also the sweet pleasure of it. Or even, think about the awed wonder felt by that man who sees reality for the first time, hence questioning this reality he sees. By facing big questions and the lack of answers, myths come into existence – which are the first educational and exegetical stories.

The need of narration grows more and more complex with the passing of time is inborn in human beings. It is one of their founding and essential features. The original goal of narration is to explain and to be explained.

Thereby, since the beginning of time, the man used narration as the method to understand the world and himself. Language is not enough to know, to explain. Language is the tool, narration is the method, the know-how. Plato used the myth of the cave to describe his idea of knowledge; the Bible used a man’s concrete and terrestrial story to talk about the unutterable divinity; journalists turn the dry report of events into a greater or lesser dramatized story in order to bring it closer to the reader and catch his eye. And when we inform someone else about what happened to us during the day, for example, it is us who is using narration, often customizing it according to the listener’s sensibility.

So, precisely because of the more or less conscious ordinariness of narration, not to consider its importance is an act of extreme shallowness. It is impossible to catch the deepness of the human being, of the reality that surrounds him and of the era he lives in, if one does not take into account that the human being is a narrative being. He lives on stories and perceives his own existence as a story. And not least, the need of giving a narrative form to events, thoughts, sensations, is strictly linked to its underlying goal. Indeed, the choice of voice, vocabulary and emphasised details is never a random one: it gives a well-defined logic to the act of explaining and being explained. Do you want to arouse pain, anger, emotion? Do you want to convince anyone of your point? Do you want to provide objective information? Of course, everything plays a role in the birth of a story, but also in the effect aroused on the reader/listener it does.

It is clear, then, that a trivializing approach to this human tendency does not allow the development of a critical awareness in relation to the words of others, through which, at least in part (a large part), we live reality. Furthermore, this trivializing approach is a symptom of poor empathic ability and depth of analysis: the man who slips on word and on stories is not able to understand another man. He acts blinded by the presumptuous ignorance of those who know or believe they know the mechanisms behind of life, not considering the essential human truth that is the sentimental-emotional one. Starting from this point, the story – the major and the minor one – takes shape and thanks to her all human being are tied together.

La liseuse – J.-J. Henner

It’s a heartfelt and suffered appeal, thus: do not trash literature! That uselessness attributed to it by the fast-moving world of “everything at once” and “either/or” is truly ostensible. Literature (the real one) is the tool – much more powerful than commonly believed – which allows to convey the experience of the existence and its nuances. In fact, we have to admit that what is most striking or interesting to us and sediments in our memory is what is narrativized and often dramatized. Transformation of concrete facts and facts of the soul into a story allows a process of identification. This one more than any other method leads to enables men to understand, to clarify and to remember. Stories are harder to forget and the best ones exceed time because they trigger the empathic side of the man, his curiosity, his imagination. Therefore, it is more immediate and more effective when it comes to fix a concept (especially if abstract), understand a sensation, explain a fact.

Literature keeps life alive as a reservoir of emotions – that is the real engine of human gestures and thoughts. It is a useful and fundamental resource also and above all in the fast-moving contemporary society. Otherwise, the speed of our living as fast as an Instagram story risks losing the meaning of the reality we must deal with and the critical ability to analyze it, especially when it comes to catch the intention underlying the story (written or oral, either) or to link its elements and times. Literature makes us human beings because it does not exclude anything, on the contrary it includes both the rational and the emotional parts that feature us.

Here, therefore, the reasons why I believe that all those who stood up to shout the uselessness of literature did not take the opportunity to reflect a little more. That is why I would like to invite them to consider why, for example, the photo of the migrant child lying on the beach has provoked a far greater number of reactions than that obtained from the dissemination of data and the purely technical-rational approach to the matter immigration. Two are key points: image and identification. Literature offers both and, paying the right attention, that photographed child is already literary matter.

written by Livia Corbelli


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