What is the purpose of literature we are often asked like the eternal inexhaustible question why one endeavours to write. Is it a form of escapism as one of our fellow blogger has maintained? Is it but a way to refresh oneself when the external everyday world seems exhausting and strangling with its mundane clutches? Perhaps this can be told regarding a few of the genres, but about most of the serious literature, this cannot be the line of explanation. Here, the phrase serious literature is meant by what the academia perceives as the serious literature that is Philip Roth or William Faulkner as opposed to Sidney Sheldon or Stephenie Meyer. Granted, that the serious literary works do provide the readers with an alternate vision towards the everyday reality, sometimes even taking fantasy to a greater extent than that, but it’s intention almost never turn to ‘escape’ reality. It is said that a true artist tells a lie only to reveal a greater truth. When Roth draws a tale of alternate history of pre-second world war Nazi America or when Faulkner tells us the story of Yoknapatawpha county, it is only to allude a greater truth that we fail to perceive or encounter through our everyday experience while they are always in front of us. The magic realist Marquez or Grass or Calvino have taken this front into a whole new level, but none-the-less while reading the tin drum or cosmicomics or one hundred years of solitude, one would never feel that the intention of the writer was to evade the reality and create some haven for the reclusive souls of the readers.
And then there are realists. When someone like me ventures into the works of say Alice Walker or Nadine Gordimer or even Tolstoy, he does not essentially expect to have a grave understanding of the world. He appreciates the pen pictures drawn by these great stalwarts of the reality that is not his, but of a different geographical and temporal location. And when he experiences the reflection of his own human condition into another time and into another place inside the plight of another character, be it imaginary or historical or mythical and apparently alien to him, a deep sense of humanism flowing as an eternal undercurrent through all the times and places pervades him. And perhaps it is the greatest gift a literary work can provide to his reader, turning him into from a distant admirer to an indulgent devotee.