Literature and Life

Mauritius Times 60 Years

By Deepchand Beeharry

To be alive, to be man alive, to be whole man alive: that is the point. And at its best, the novel, and the novel supremely, can help you.

— DH Lawrence

In the present context of international affairs, when the whole world is crossing one of its worst periods in history, when not only culture and civilization but mankind too is in danger, it is right and proper to pause and consider the duties of a writer. The writer or the artist is in himself a creature of light and progress.

That anyone should write with a purpose or point of view, sound cheap and prosaic but the greatest books have been those which have had something to say.

In ancient times, no book was written without keeping an eye on its possibilities for human weal and welfare. Be it in the East or in the West, books were written to arouse man’s emotions, to stimulate him to think on healthy lines, and to create in him an awareness of life, whilst at the same time awakening his aesthetic sense.

Good literature is about what people do and why they do it, and how it succeeds in making them happy or otherwise; these are moral questions. The idea that there is something dull about literature that takes morals seriously is erroneous. Popular tales, even of primitive tribes, are always highly moral. Our greatest writers are those that take the greatest interest in morals. Dickens, Romain Rolland, Tolstoy have achieved immortality because they set some sort of standards of right and wrong. Great literature is that which is bound by the closest ties to life, that which is in, which is of, which is from life. In fact, the edifice of literature rests on the bosom of life.

In literature, just as in life, our sole aim is enjoyment that combines the beautiful, the good and the useful, the dulce et utile of Horace. Because literature touches chords in our being that life does not touch, the pleasure experienced therein is purer and more sublime.

Literature looks for pleasure in all the inner and outer patterns of life, it looks for it in palaces as well as in huts and cottages, in slums and squalor, in the rosy dawn and fiery sunset as well as in jet-black night. Where there is truth, there is beauty. I am taking either truth or beauty in its concrete sense. What I mean here is truth of treatment, truth in delineation of characters, truth in analysis of sentiments. For example, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or Maupassant’s famous short story La Parure are beautiful because they are true to life. But if the truth is tampered with so that it may look either more attractive or less glaring, the spell ceases. Any composition that aims solely at exciting the lower senses, that arouses the primitive instincts in man cannot be termed literature. In this category fall cheap, detective stories or pornographic writings, catering mainly for what is ugliest, basest in man. Great literature is that which throws light on the secrets of life, signals the storm and sandbanks that beset man. Great literature inspires and stimulates higher achievements.

The world’s great religious books owe their popularity to this selfsame fact. They appeal to what is best, to what is truest in man. Any literature that sings of man’s sorrows and joys is bound to appeal. For it gives us a closer and more expert insight into things and men than we usually have.

Thus the great writer brings in a sense harmony with the world; the sentiments and sensations he creates become symptomatic of one and all. All important contemporary events find echo in his books. His heart goes out to those

who suffer. His sympathy, though, has nothing partial or local in it. His vision is limited by no consideration of place, time or space. He belongs to his own country as well as to the world. What he writes is true, will be true, will be always true.

Great literature is universal, hence immortal. All contemporary events are bound to find an echo in his works at some time or other. Romain Rolland is of opinion that politics has become so much a part and parcel of our life that we cannot escape it.

Now, has literature got a mission or is it simply a subjective expression of one’s genius or a mere sublimation of surplus energy? Can literature be used to create a scheme of things to our heart’s desire? Does literature change mankind and, through mankind, society? Yes, all this and much more too. Any literature worth the name of it “criticises” society, it cannot afford to be merely subjective or simply aesthetic sublimation. The theory of art for art’s sake is no credit to art. Art is both subjective and functional. Any literature that is divorced from life, that is not diffused among the people, that is confined to esoteric circles is bound to die in the long run. No ostracism of any sort will help. What is intrinsically good, true or beautiful appeals to and inspires one and all.

Rousseau was one of the first to vindicate publicly the rights of the downtrodden the enslaved, the fettered. This was the beginning of literature taking upon the cudgels against the “slings and arrows” of traditions and reaction. But he did not stop at that, he went a step further. He suggested what he considered a solution to our wrongs.

“It is not sufficient to show man at war with a reactionary society, unable to fit in as an individual, but he should be portrayed in action to change his conditions, to master life, to become master of his own fate.

Man now cannot form a state within the state. The days of moody and melancholy escapists are gone. Above all, man is a social animal. He must sacrifice some of his liberties for the happiness of society. The writer’s duty is to picture him not only struggling against society but also growing aware of the strong bonds existing between himself and society.

What we seek is not only an aspect of reality but a mode of conduct, a way of living. Society depends on him and he depends on society. The credit lies in creating a better world by unstinting, unflinching struggle, sacrifice and pluck.

Literature keeps society fit and sound. A good book is the purest source of the human soul. A country’s pride, a country’s culture lies in its treasure-house of literature. India still commands the respect of the world because of her sacred books, her Mahabharata, her Bhagavad Gita. Rome and Greece have achieved immortality because of Homer, Sophocles, Virgil and Cicero.

With the breath-taking changes in the modern world, the responsibilities of literature have become doubly great.

There was never a time when this particular activity was so much needed, was of so much practical, political and social use.

It is not sufficient to write, but one must write for the uplifting, for the liberation of man from all age-old shackles, blind traditions and fatal reactionary forces.

A writer should not only have ideals but should expound the possibility of working them out. His compositions must ring with the pangs of creation, echo the music of beauty and freedom, resound with the struggle of man fighting his way to resurrection. For too long has he slept the death of torpor and lethargy.

Bankruptcy of ideas in literature means a fall in life, and a fall in life means the fall of man.

5th Year – No 209
Friday 8th August, 1958

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