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Literature imparts strength to individuals

Author  :  Jin Chunping     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-09-26

Compared with sociology, economics, history and other disciplines, literature has a limited ability to explain social and economic development. The former disciplines describe particular subjects in an empirical way and establish indisputable “truth,” whereas literature focuses on another type of “truth” that differs or even opposes historical and social reality though it has mapped out so many pictures of the past and the present that are authentic—this is how the unique function of literature is defined.

Therefore, inspiring literature, usually with a reservoir of potential and energy, opens the door of possibility that allows everyone to encounter real life by means of narrative, emotion, language and aesthetics. It frees people’s minds in the literary world of imagination, absorption and nostalgia. This unique effect literature has on people distinguishes it from other disciplines and also constitutes the criterion that separates classics from non-classics and profound literary works from superficial ones. 

The dimensions and power of literature can be perceived from the following points of view.

First, though literature is incapable of directly portraying the complexity of the times, it does not mean that writers should stop reflecting on or pondering the times and expressing their ideas. On the contrary, a writer needs to acutely capture the peculiarities of a period and its trends within a complicated context. It is their responsibility to touch the dribs and drabs of life in various forms, as well as the joys and sadness, weal and woe of people. In this way, a writer is able to record their perceptions and convey a rational wisdom filled with humanistic values through the observation of interrelations between individuals and the times.

Second, by mirroring the image of reality, recollecting episodes of the past and envisaging the trajectory of the future, literature joins in the development of history and becomes involved in it not entirely by combining and reviewing historical materials but by discerning and exploring the intellectual traits that are exclusive to history. In this sense, literature acts as the guardian of a historical legacy, which often is merely a fictional utopia. But these scattered, fragmented and unfixed intellectual portions make a community of imagination possible based on which human experiences offer an inexhaustible supply of inspiration for literary creation. 

Third, literature tends to rise above its own disciplinary sphere and external elements continue to enter into the field of literature. At the same time, the function of literature is infinitely amplified, and “literature is a study of man” remains an external precept. All the excellent domestic and foreign literary works in ancient and modern times adopt as their key tenet the exploration and examination, exaltation or criticism of human nature. The vast expanse of human nature is also the only research subject that transcends space, time, borders and ethnicity, and that can be both self-examined and edifying for “others.” In the world of literature, the repression and emancipation of human nature can be clearly presented, which, as an admonition for sobriety, could either stir doubt or insistence of the self.

Last, literature can in some sense become the spiritual weapon on which the vulnerable groups can rely on. Faced with suffering, injustice and misfortune, readers are informed by literature that all these hardships are nothing but the norms of life through the depiction of incidents, images, characters and emotions. Those afflicted would not plunge into the darkness of despair, and those blessed would not lapse into the hysteria of excitement. 

By means of enlightening words, literature conveys the humanistic values that life is above all things. It remolds and transforms the external world that may fetter the inner beings. Such edifying linguistic power motivates the human history to continue marching forward through the ages. While it is true that literature is not necessarily able to directly offer the therapy for the human spirit, mind, soul and life, it is the artistic threshold between the external world and the inner self that relentlessly defends what constitutes a human being: decency, freedom and dignity.


Jin Chunping is from the School of Culture and Communication at Shanxi University of Finance and Economics.

Editor: Yu Hui

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