Alice behind the Looking Glass. Literature and knowledge of reality

Alice behind the Looking Glass. Literature and knowledge of reality

We offer to our readers the Introduction to the book just published, Federica Bergamino (ed). Alice dietro lo specchio. Letteratura e conoscenza della realtà. Edizioni Sabinae, Roma 2013)

At the end of theGreat Books course, a student highlighted what she had learnt by concluding that there is a significant resemblance amongst the most prestigious authors in literature.

She wrote: “Great Books fosters charity because it draws the readers towards others in a way they we can understand and help other people. It is a tool which integrates several ways of understanding the world but does not put our ideas before others. Great Books is a synonym of an alliance of civilisation because it helps communication between cultures”. Such synthesis of a novel reading course seems to me an eloquent confirmation of what Martha Nussbaum states “I defend the literary imagination because it is an essential component of an ethic position which asks us to preoccupy ourselves about the good of the others whose lives are so different to ours”.

When we face the subject of literature we might not think about its relationship with reality or of the cognitive value, or even its educational value. However, I believe that one of the most remarkable results one has when one reads a good story is the very development of a thought and of a pro-social, empathic and comprehensive attitude. Such allows us to know a personal world in a way that it helps us to live a fully human life.

A literary work, is in actual fact, essentially about human experience and as, in philosophy and science, helps man to live. But the way in which it helps has an exclusive specificity and that is by putting the reader in touch with a concrete and singular viewpoint of personal lives. I would like to briefly mention two essential aspects here as the others will be subject to discussion in the book.

From one point of view, the narrative revolves round characters belonging to historical eras, to a variety of cultural traditions, and by letting the reader from the inside: motivations, intentions, fears, doubts, and resolutions. Such knowledge among other things allows the reader to understand the behaviour of the characters and sometimes our own. In this way, novels do not just supply a new form of knowledge but also a new way of communicating from those who are different to us. Such regards moral aspects rather that scientific ones. “The last horizon of such experience – states Todorov- more than the truth is love, the supreme form of a human relationship”. This is in synthesis what the student understood perfectly.

From the other point of view, quite unlike scientific and philosophic knowledge, the narrative work do not impose judgments to the readers, and leave them free to accept ideas or not. In actual fact, the argumentative structure of science and philosophy works in a way that once a few premises are accepted one can deduce the evidence of the conclusions. Literature, conversely proposes a story which invites the reader to reflect. “Describing an object, an event, a character, the writer does not formulate a thesis moreover, he stimulates the reader to do so: proposing or not, leaving the reader free and at the same time inviting to participate more”. The reader here does not find himself facing abstract or apodictic truths, but a possible life; he is free to compare it with his, to accept or not that thought, that motivation or that behaviour. It is like Alice behind the mirror: she is not forced to look inside nor enter; yet she looks and enters.

In my opinion, these two aspects permit the reading of novels and promote communication among people, cultures and alliances between civilisations. It is by looking through these people, by loving them and encouraging their freedom that this is possible. Literature is extremely effective because it helps us to familiarise ourselves with the human world. It permits us to have a better knowledge of mankind and helps us to engage with these people. It is also a way which each and every one of us would like to be treated: where there is genuine attention for one’s own inwardness and a sacred respect for concrete personal freedom. Literature may help us to be familiar with the world of a person in exactly the way they would like to be treated. In this way a book comes to life, in short, it is the sap which animates it. The knowledge that literature is one of the most sublime forms can only but help to make the world civilised. Writing and reading literature is therefore an act of homage to the human being; an expression of trust which divulges the truth about man which is precisely love.

In this humus, the book proposes a collection of essays some of which have already been published in other languages with different disciplinary perspectives which aim to stand out the role of literature in human life. It is subdivided in three parts: the first being The power of narration, which analyzes the subject of literary fiction in an almost dialectic approach with reality; the second, Literature and personal reality, aims to highlight the strict relationship between literature and existential reality of the human being, the third Literature and Identity offers reflections on the communication and formation through literature.

The reader can discover how it is possible that literary fiction is absolutely indispensable for human knowledge and for philosophy too (Llano) and maybe surprised to see the presence of literature where one would only expect to find factual truth (García Noblejas) and see how they can give “false facts” and “real fiction” (Presilla). Not only this the reader will comprehend that certain realities of our lives are accessible only through a narration (Bergamino) and that Christianity can have an influence on the relationship between everyday life and literature (Wauck). We hope that the reader will also find answers to the disorientation and bitterness that sometimes we perceive at the end of some novels (Malo) and that the reader will discover a powerful ally in literature to elaborate an adequate formation regarding human needs (González Gaitano).