By Koulila Brahim
By Koulila Brahim
Morocco World News
Kenitra, April 10, 2012
Since I was a child, I have heard people say that literature is not as important as sciences; others say that people specialized in literature are just wasting their time as they cannot do something more important. Indeed, some people do not say it openly – “they do not want to hurt the feelings of people doing literature”—but will express it implicitly, through body language. When I was in middle school, a lot of students were afraid of being oriented to “Les letters moderns”, for that was the name of the major or branch dealing with literature in Moroccan high schools in the 1990s. Most of them were sure that they would not make it at the professional level through this major, as people, including their parents, believed that literature was nothing and that there were very few job prospects therein.
This prejudice against literature seems to be shared among many communities worldwide: Doctors, engineers, technicians…are believed to be at the top of the social pyramid, while poets, essayists, novelists/short-story writers are sometimes considered to be just talkative people who spend their time scribbling on blank sheets whatever dawns upon their minds. Of course, all these views are sheer nonsense; they show how some people are ignorant of the great value of literature. Literature is not less important than (exact) sciences, and writers represent man’s experience in good, well-organized moulds. Literature is, so to speak, the cream of man’s thinking and knowledge.
Writers do reflect our reality in highly creative ways. It would be silly to believe that a novelist writes books just to kill his/her time or entertain us — entertainment is not the main objective of writers of fiction. Writers are visionaries; they sometimes see what the lay person cannot see. It is not an exaggeration to call writers “the guides of nations”; they sometimes anticipate the future. Being armed with (world) knowledge, experience, eloquence and language mastery, critical thinking, among others, writers expose us to our reality from different angles to understand it well. For example, a novel, besides being a work of art full of events, characters, speech figures…, which I call the elements of entertainment, it deals with reality: It discusses a cause, phenomenon, social problem or whatever.
Fiction is called so just because writers use fictitious characters and events; still, no matter how creative they (writers) are, they cannot detach themselves from reality and their environment: Reality somehow imposes itself on them and pushes them to represent it. If you read Othello (by Shakespeare), you will enjoy yourself, for the play tells an intriguing story; yet, you will learn about man’s nature as well. In this play, Shakespeare, tackles some universal human flaws, such as jealousy, betrayal, malice, greed, racism and so on. Also, in Eugene O’Neil’s A Long Day’s Journey into Night, the author discusses the problem of family dysfunction perfectly and shows how this problem can make every member in a family suffer. Likewise, a fairytale, full of imaginary stories as it is, is usually full of lessons; fairytale writers sugarcoat their texts to help the reader —often children– grasp the messages they contain.
As for poetry, which is considered by some people just sweet talk or well-strung speech, can communicate some ideas better than a lecture would do. The same thing applies to non-fiction: Essayists, columnists and all writers of non-fiction write to transmit some messages and teach people for that matter. Actually, writers share with us their knowledge and draw our attention to some issues we may not be aware of. This task cannot be done by everyone, as the act of writing, per se, is not as easy as some people may believe.
Beside hard work, writers must have talent. Not everybody can be a writer: One should have talent, but at the same time he/she should develop his/her skills through practice—a lot of toil. As such, those thinking that writing is nothing are really mistaken: To produce good pieces of writing, one should master the language he/she writes in, be knowledgeable about the topics tackled, be familiar with writing techniques and, above all, be eloquent and have a good style. I have always considered writing a (hard) craft, for writers build paragraphs, sew words, link ideas, among others.
It would be naïve to believe that a person becomes a great poet, novelist, playwright or whatever overnight: Most writers have spent years and years working on their writing skills, not to mention that a writer has to read massively, for reading is the raw material for writing, as it were. One cannot be a good writer without spending thousands of hours reading books. For instance, some people can speak foreign languages, say French or English, perfectly, but when it comes to writing fiction or academic works, they might get blocked because they may not have the (aforementioned) necessary tools writers should have. Indeed, wiring is quite a demanding process, and it is needed in all fields of study.
No academic study or discipline can do without literature. This latter is part of every discipline, including exact sciences. For example, when a medicine student wants to graduate, he/she has to submit a thesis that must be well written and organized. The layout, style, use of references, grammar and so forth affect the grade a student would get for his/her work. The same thing applies to engineers, technicians, scientists…Are not these people doing literature without being aware of it? Incidentally, before man “compartmentalized” knowledge into distinct disciplines, there had been only a major field of study or discipline, philosophy. Among “philosophers”, there had been, of course, playwrights and poets – the novel is comparatively a recent literary genre. As such, Greek writers, such as Aristotle, Sophocles, Euripides, to name but a few, wrote not only to entertain but also to teach/educate.
Literature has no limits. Nobody can dictate on a writer what topics he/she can tackle or not. A writer can give free reign to his/her imagination and write about infinite topics, including scientific issues. In this respect, some purely scientific disciplines, such as psychology and psychoanalysis, often find in literature, namely fiction, a good material for study. On the other hand, literature is tightly related to history, sociology, politics, economy and so forth. Needless to prove that hundreds of books have been written, for example, on the two World Wars, for these latter were so eventful that writers could not but represent them in fiction, not to mention that piles of non-fiction essays, articles and books have been written on them. Actually, human crises have always been the first thing that inspires writers. Again, I insist that no matter how creative a writer is, he/she cannot overlook his/her environment.
There are some bad literary works. If you read a play, novel or poem and find it boring, it does not mean that literature is bad or just vacuous talk. Of course, some people might sometimes write nonsense, as when doctors make (serious) medical mistakes, or when an architect causes the death of tens, if not hundreds, of innocent people because of an ill-conceived architectural plan. That is, literature, per se, is innocent from those stereotypes some people associate it with. On the other hand, those who do not think much of literature certainly do not know its value, do not have the patience to read it and cannot appreciate it: They do not have the adequate knowledge to analyze a literary work.
The bottom line is that literature and knowledge are two facets of one coin. Recent sciences, without exception, owe a lot to literature, which has always been the well from which people pull up their ideas. Certainly, poets, novelists, playwrights, essayists… are neither crazy nor lazy; they have views – that often can change reality and make nations think deeply about their status quo–, theories and didactic projects.
Koulila Brahim is a Moroccan English teacher and essayist. He lives in Kénitra, Morocco, and he working at Mohamed V Univ, Agdal, Rabat. He obtained his M.A. (Studies in English language and culture) at Ibn Tofail University, Kénitra (Morocco) in 2010. He is interested in what is going on in Morocco, namely at the political and social levels.
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