Why I love Lit­er­a­ture

HIS­TORY is im­por­tant… very im­por­tant. There is no doubt about that. But Lit­er­a­ture is sweet. You can call this an ob­ses­sion; and you will not be very far from the truth.

The Manica Post - - Education - Mor­ris Mtisi

LIT­ER­A­TURE is not only a study or ap­pre­ci­a­tion of writ­ten work. It is also not only com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the reader and writer.

It is an ex­plo­ration of real life. An­other way of putting it across is … Lit­er­a­ture ex­am­ines the tid­ings of to­day, not of yes­ter­day.

What in­duces literary mouth-watering is how Lit­er­a­ture qui­etly speaks to the ac­tors on the prover­bial stage as much as it speaks to the au­di­ences ob­serv­ing the drama of life or in­deed the read­ers of a story.

Please read “Julius Cae­sar” again. It was writ­ten more than 400 years ago. Yet you will mar­vel at Shake­speare’s pen­e­trat­ing ac­cu­racy and prophetic vision. The same with “Mac­beth” and “An­i­mal Farm”. All of them ex­plore real life with a vivid re­minder of the world un­fold­ing in front of you in a play of words. All of them and many more ti­tles (these are only il­lus­tra­tions of the best there is on the literary menu) do not de­velop in­tel­lec­tual tricks. They de­velop real pow­ers of imag­i­na­tion, ob­ser­va­tion, re­flec­tion and in­tel­li­gent judg­ment all which are ab­so­lutely part of any gen­uine ed­u­ca­tional process. That is what the new cur­ricu­lum aims to do.

When the up­dated cur­ricu­lum speaks about de­vel­op­ment of crit­i­cal think­ing, it speaks about how, for ex­am­ple, Lit­er­a­ture makes ev­ery in­tel­li­gent stu­dent know how he or she or ev­ery­one for that mat­ter, fits into the gen­eral scheme of real life.

Drama, po­etry, the novel and the short story all are works of imag­i­nary crafts­man­ship or ca­pac­ity for in­ven­tion. They rise above sim­ple en­ter­tain­ment and bring us to the hard re­al­i­ties of hu­man sit­u­a­tions, prob­lems, feel­ings and re­la­tion­ships: the dilem­mas in hu­man life, the anx­i­eties, fears and ex­pec­ta­tions of peo­ple, their cries, ques­tions, wor­ries and con­cerns.

Shel­ley once wrote: “Writ­ers are un­ac­knowl­edged leg­is­la­tors of the world.” How true that is! The vi­tal part played by writ­ers … good writ­ers, in­spired writ­ers, can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. It was H.L.B. Moody who said, “… all of us who read works of lit­er­a­ture will find our knowl­edge of hu­man af­fairs broad­ened and deep­ened, whether in the in­di­vid­ual, the so­cial, the racial or the in­ter­na­tional sphere; we shall un­der­stand the pos­si­bil­i­ties of hu­man life, both for good and evil; we shall un­der­stand how we came to live at a par­tic­u­lar time and space, with all its plea­sures and vex­a­tions and prob­lems; we shall un­der­stand the ways on­wards which are open to us, and we shall be able to make right rather than wrong choices.” Brief but preg­nant; straight and to the point!

We must never un­der­es­ti­mate the el­e­ment of plea­sure and en­joy­ment which comes from the read­ing of lit­er­a­ture, cer­tainly in it­self one of the great ad­van­tages which comes with be­ing an ed­u­cated per­son. But as Moody says, over and above plea­sure and en­joy­ment of lit­er­a­ture we must “recog­nise that cer­tain other fun­da­men­tal skills and ca­pac­i­ties are de­vel­oped through the read­ing of lit­er­a­ture, which are im­por­tant to us as ed­u­cated peo­ple, not only in our pri­vate plea­sures or our per­sonal philoso­phies, but in our day-to-day ex­er­cise of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties which come to us in the mod­ern world as a re­sult of the ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions we ob­tain.” These skills, I al­ways say, in­clude abil­ity to ob­serve, to imag­ine, dis­crim­i­nate, to re­flect and judge (judg­ment re­fer­ring to ca­pac­ity to make in­tel­li­gent, wise, cor­rect de­ci­sion).

In sim­ple lan­guage, to imag­ine or think that lit­er­a­ture is about sim­ple stories of drama or the novel in­tended to tell a sim­ple story to keep peo­ple en­ter­tained is to lose the whole essence of the in­tel­lec­tual rich­ness of lit­er­a­ture em­bed­ded in its literary com­plex­ity.

There is no doubt that English lan­guage hav­ing been in use for more than 600 years with its re­sources go­ing through var­i­ous world cul­tures, the ex­per­i­ments and vic­to­ries of heroic in­di­vid­ual writ­ers, new so­cial and sci­en­tific evo­lu­tions and rev­o­lu­tions, makes Lit­er­a­ture ex­cep­tion­ally com­plex in­deed. This is what I call the sweet­ness of lit­er­a­ture.

In “Julius Cae­sar”, the king of the Ro­man Em­pire, at the time, is con­spired against by his clos­est al­lies and friends Casca and Cas­sius and who feel he is be­com­ing a po­lit­i­cal demigod too big for his boots and rul­ing with a heavy hand. They mo­bilise the ple­beians (or­di­nary sim­ple peo­ple) and as­sas­si­nate him. The rea­son be­ing a bru­tal dic­ta­to­rial lead­er­ship style! The ple­beians by their na­ture of mob psy­chol­ogy and be­ing car­ried by di­rec­tion­less winds of ex­cite­ment rally around the plot­ters and Cae­sar is killed. Or­di­nary peo­ple, Shake­speare called them ple­beians, are no­table for bois­ter­ous mer­ri­ment or ex­cite­ment about noth­ing … some­times even about self de­struc­tion.

No­table amongst the crowd that killed the king is Cae­sar’s best friend, a no­ble­man of Rome, Bru­tus, who holds the sword that in­flicts the killer stab. To his shock Cae­sar dies with a fa­mous clause in Shake­spearean drama and world lit­er­a­ture “Et tu Brute!” Latin to mean “And you too Bru­tus (you are here???)” In­deed, best friends, our sweet­hearts in this life, some­times de­liver the most painful blow in the worst dra­matic ironies of life. It is a play when you study it, en­ter­tain­ment when you read it; but none of it is funny or fun; and of course none of it is a play when it is hap­pen­ing to you in real life.

Cae­sar’s right hand man and warm­est friend, Mark An­thony a great speaker and or­a­tor comes to bury his friend but must make sure he doesn’t of­fend or trig­ger the anger of Cae­sar’s as­sas­sins . So he takes ad­van­tage of the ple­beians’ sim­plic­ity of mind, (un-ed­u­cat­ed­ness or fool­ish­ness, if you like) and ad­dresses them in a lan­guage too equiv­o­cal and com­plex for them to fol­low or un­der­stand.

‘I come to bury Cae­sar but not to praise him / The evil that men do lives af­ter them/ The good is in­terred with their bones …’

But as sim­ple “fools”, they cheer him up and salute him.

In “Mac­beth” the play, Lady Mac­beth, the hard-hearted, hard-talking, pushy first lady, fans her hus­band’s am­bi­tion to be­come king and ends up the more dan­ger­ous snake in the grass, schem­ing and plot­ting the mur­der of King Dun­can whom she wants dead yes­ter­day but can­not prac­ti­cally kill her­self. So she sweet-talks her hus­band, lit­er­ally hen­pecks, us­ing pleas, scorn and mor­ti­fi­ca­tion, praise and blame, all words and tac­tics a woman can use to bend a lov­ing man into sub­mis­sion. Women do this bet­ter than men. Fi­nally, Mac­beth mur­ders King Dun­can, an ac­tion which al­most in­stantly comes back to haunt both hus­band and wife when all the sup­port al­most in­stantly dis­ap­pears. The body­guards aban­don him, all the no­ble­men desert him and he re­mains cor­nered in a po­lit­i­cal quag­mire too hot to con­tem­plate.

“They have tied me to a stake / I can­not fly, / But, bear-like, I must fight the course …’ (Act V Scene 7)

When Mac­beth finds him­self cor­nered and al­most un­der house ar­rest, ev­ery­thing around him rapidly turn­ing bad in his face, the com­mando that guarded him has turned against him, his friends have de­serted him and his foul-mouthed wife and source of strength has ap­par­ently com­mit­ted sui­cide, he cries, “She should have died here­after / There would have been a time for such a word . . . all our yes­ter­days have lifted fools / The way to dusty death . . . ? Life’s but a walk­ing shadow, a poor player /That struts and frets upon stage . . . And then is heard no more / It is a tale, / Told by an id­iot full of sound and fury/ Sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing.”

Mac­beth, the dic­ta­tor, the bru­tal mur­derer and heart­less vil­lain breaks into an oddly muted speech segue­ing quickly into a speech of hor­rific de­spair and pes­simism mean­ing ‘there is no mean­ing or pur­pose in life. The queen-to­day re­ferred to as a first lady, is com­pletely shat­tered, un­done by guilt and she de­scends into mad­ness be­fore com­mit­ting sui­cide. But she was the driv­ing force be­hind their plot and scheme to kill Dun­can.

The pair, Mac­beth and Lady Mac­beth, in their de­struc­tive power, now gone, have cre­ated their own hell, tor­mented by guilt, shame and insanity. That is Shake­speare for you; more than 400 years ago.

In “An­i­mal Farm”, by Ge­orge Or­well, Old Ma­jor dies af­ter proph­esy­ing vic­tory for the an­i­mals against hu­man be­ings on Manor Farm. An­i­mal Farm emerges to re­place Manor Farm through a bit­ter armed strug­gle in which many an­i­mals died and some of them emerged he­roes. The an­i­mals seem­ingly cel­e­brate in­de­pen­dence from hu­man be­ings in sweet unity. They or­gan­ise them­selves into a sov­er­eign gov­ern­ment led by pigs un­der the ban­ners of Snow­ball and Napoleon. The an­i­mal gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately shows ab­so­lute power in the hands of the pigs. The po­lit­i­cal hon­ey­moon does not last long. Soon Snow­ball and Napoleon are at each other’s throat un­til Snow­ball is booted out of po­lit­i­cal power and glory. Napoleon rules, seem­ingly, with a dic­ta­to­rial hand un­til all an­i­mals who ex­pressed dis­sention one way or the other were ex­e­cuted both pri­vately and pub­licly. Ben­jamin the don­key saw ev­ery trick, lie and inch of op­pres­sion by his own but kept quiet and at a dis­tance. The hard­est work­ing, most faith­ful and loyal an­i­mal, a bun­dle of en­ergy and re­solve, Boxer, ended up dead and his meat sold to hu­man be­ings for their dogs to feast on.

At the end of “An­i­mal Farm”, there was vis­i­ble trade with the hu­man be­ings whom they had de­feated in armed strug­gle. The pigs ate all the farm fruit alone and drank all the cows’ milk alone and slept on beds, all which they had ini­tially agreed and con­sti­tuted to be against the spirit of An­i­mal­ism. They (the rul­ing pigs) slept all day, eat­ing the best food while the rest al­most died from famine. They claimed they needed this com­fort be­cause they were plan­ners and in­tel­lec­tual mas­ter-min­ders of peace and pros­per­ity on An­i­mal Farm.

As the small book with a big story ends, the an­i­mals are dis­il­lu­sioned with their own lead­ers though they are not in­tel­li­gent enough to see ex­actly what is go­ing on. They grad­u­ally grow rest­less and seem to think life was bet­ter un­der hu­man be­ings as it was more painful to be op­pressed by their own.

As the “An­i­mal Farm” story ends, there is a feel­ing there could be an­other rev­o­lu­tion lead­ing to a new or­der likely to be work­ing closely with hu­man be­ings.

The lit­tle book is an­gry, straight and to the point and spares noth­ing and no one who ex­ploits an­other. It tells a sim­ple story telling an­other com­plex story un­der­neath it and of­fers a per­fect plat­form for the de­vel­op­ment of a crit­i­cal mind that crit­i­cally analy­ses real life.

It is my sub­mis­sion that if more lit­er­a­ture were of­fered and se­ri­ously stud­ied in schools, the cur­ricu­lum de­mand of de­vel­op­ing crit­i­cal think­ing in the minds of learn­ers would not be put to waste. We would pro­duce gen­uine thinkers and bet­ter de­ci­sion-mak­ers upon ev­ery as­pect of their lives.

Lit­er­a­ture is sweet, sweeter than his­tory.

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