On Literature as Knowledge

Marí, Antoni
Quaderns Divulgatius, 13 2000

The classical historians who wrote in the 5th century BC report that the generals of the Persian Empire were convinced of their victory over the rough and undisciplined Hellenic people, a people who only had a language and the gods of Olympus in common. The Persians had everything in their favour --discipline, strategy, the habit of war -- but they had failed to take into account the fact that the language shared by all Greeks had made it possible for everyone to know the great epic poem of the Iliad, and thus they knew about Achilles' rage, his victory over Hector and the boldness of the strategies of Homer's hero. And when the Persians attacked the Greeks, believing that victory was imminent, they were confronted with an organised and brave army because each and every Greek had become the hero Achilles. Thus, the victory of the Greeks over the powerful Persians was absolute and it permitted them to construct the highest culture and wisest civilisation. Literature made the victory possible, transforming every Greek into a hero. Literature, with Homer's poem, gave meaning to the Greek people and permitted each one of them to recognise himself as an individual and as a member of a community. It was the Greek historians who were the first to consider the transformational capacity of literature and of poetry, and the first to understand their educative action and they bestowed on them the appropriate status.
However, only that literature whose roots penetrate to the deepest layers of the human being can be educative. The highest values of humanity, though its artistic expression, acquire permanent meaning and have the emotional force capable of moving humankind. Literature has an unlimited power of spiritual conversion, and only literature possesses universal validity and the immediate plenitude of life. Literature, then, is a means of knowledge, not of things, but of the being of things, as it not only serves as entertainment but also as reason, imagination, memory, fantasy, the projection of desire and the development of ideas. The knowledge that we acquire in literature has no functional or instrumental utility, because those who create it, the authors, and those who receive it, the readers, are all devoted to the collective process of the quest for the truth that aims to transcend the limits of the time in which it was formulated, and that wishes to be shared with the citizens of the world and with our future contemporaries in literature.

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