Myron Magnet, editor of City Journal, doesn’t want you to wonder, “What use is Literature?”
… [It] teaches us more about psychology than the psychologists can. The inner life—and its relation to the outer appearance, from which it is often (and proverbially) very different—is literature’s special subject. It is a particularly complex subject, with its interweaving of motives and impulses, as appetites grapple with ideals, as consciousness both registers and distorts external reality, as natural promptings intersect with social ambitions, and the universal in our nature takes on the fashion and the garb of a particular age.
Here literature’s weakness—that, unlike philosophy, it is unsystematic—becomes its great strength. It mobilizes all our faculties of knowledge at once: not just our ability to analyze the outer world but our introspection and intuition as well. We can understand what is going on in the hearts of others because we know what stirs our own hearts, and what could stir them. When a writer imagines his characters’ inner drama, his description rings true to us because we have felt similar impulses or imagined analogous situations, and, further, can identify sympathetically with something beyond our ken. We grasp intuitively the complex internal mix: the simultaneous interplay of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and hopes, of conscious and subliminal impulses—as pity combines with social anxiety, say, or with eros or vanity or sudden insight to impel a character to behave as he behaves. Literature is the great school of motivation: it teaches us how, out of the complex welter of impulses churning within us, we make the choices that define us and seal our fate.
Via The Editor is Near, who offered up this article to explain why he doesn’t own a TV.