One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Does Great Literature Make Us Better?

This morning, I read an article by GREGORY CURRIE on Opinionator titled, “Does Great Literature Make Us Better?”. The answer of this question depends on the person who wants to answer it. It occurred to me as the writer is expecting that, “Great literary works are the results of high moral standards (Individuals with high moral standards produce great literary works) therefore the readers of great literary works should become more moral”. Irrespective of whether there are evidences in the favor of the question or not, I was not sure if the right question is asked mainly because literary works are the products of imaginations and exposures to literary works expand imaginations. Great literary works are not the products of high morality but the demands for higher imagination as a result of fierce competition in the pool of imaginations. When a writer writes something, it competes with other works out there. The more innovative and different is a work, the higher is the chance for its success to get attention of readers. It has nothing to do with morality. A work of high morality may not even get the attention of few hundred, not even to consider for competing as a great literary work. 

Now, how is an expanded imagination affect the morality depends on the basic moral teachings that we get as children. I favor the idea that skills beget skills. If the basic moral teachings are positive, the expanded imaginations increase the standards of morality, but if the basic moral teachings have some major contradictions, the expanded imaginations just enlarge those contradictions. For example, by reading/watching “Sherlock Holmes” series, a child who has a supportive environment for discoveries might get inspiration to sharpen his observations for discoveries and another child living in world of crimes might get inspiration for trying more innovative ways to do the job appreciated well in that environment. Do I have evidence to support my claims. No, not the kinds of evidences from academic research but just observing how the popular characters and stories from movies, history, and even fictions influence the behaviors remind me of co-evolution in the Nature. If the diversity of flowers remind us of the thousand faces of beauty, they also remind us of the competition that a beauty faces from the pool of competitive beauties. When an insect is attracted to a flower, it is the success of the flower in attracting that insect (It is possible that there were many other flowers in the area competing for that insect). I understand the temptation of thinking that literature actually increase the moral standards but I doubt it on the ground that followers of most read holy books with high moral lessons and great literary values have the strongest prejudices to others and discriminate on the grounds of the belief systems (let alone the crimes and wars that are waged on the basis of those high moralities). 

I again assert my opinion that the expanded imaginations nourish your basic moral standards and the reason for my assertion is my personal experience from my encounters with literary works. Ever since my childhood, I was keenly studying the lives of people around me. There were individuals around me that climbed fast the social ladder and some of the bad decisions made them not have a pleasant ending and there were people who had a humble beginning but steadily grow prosperous and keep growing. For me, the mistakes and qualities of those individuals were as commandments are to the believers. But I knew, the life is much bigger and asks for countless examples and the shortest and safest way was literature. Literature was providing me with more examples from the lives of others. I am repeating that literature served me as an expansion of my basic moral templates: to learn the lessons of life. For someone else with a different experience, the literature might work differently. Do I have an example for it? Yes. Recently, I watched Lisa Bu’s TED talk, “Lisa Bu: How books can open your mind” in which she tells her story of how books allowed her to expand her shattered dream: Since her childhood, she wanted to become a Chinese opera singer but her parents wanted her to an engineer. She seeks help from school but adults don’t listen to her and she doesn't become an opera singer. Naturally, when one doesn't get heard, one rebels. She blames, the Confucian teaching of obedience for shattering her dreams and the books allow her to express it. For example, in the book, “Jane Eyre” she finds her role model for an independent woman (in contrast to dependent woman in Confucian society), Bible tells her to honor her parents (in contrast to obey her parent in Confucian teaching), the comparative books inform her that the temptation is not just psychological as Buddha says (Lust, Fear and Social Duty) but there are also social temptation as Christ says (Economic, Political and Spiritual). My reading from her talk is that books helped her expand her rebellion to Confucian society for robbing her childhood dream. 

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