I’ve always thought of literature and the arts as a kind of life raft. They help those of us less inclined to do well at life to understand the world, people, and ourselves. I used to feel comfortable with it, a part of its community, until I suddenly felt inept. Feeling so clumsy with words it seemed easier not to speak at all, I turned it in to a self-imposed disability – ‘I can’t write’.
What do you do when your life raft turns to rope that’s wrapping tighter and tighter around your neck? Prise it off and let it go, or choose to let it throttle you unconscious, numb you to any feeling too deep and too close to the core. I used to like maths because it never got too close to the core. I never cried at the sadness or beauty of whatever the hell X or Y turned out to be. You learn facts, processes; this happens, so this happens, then this happens. A1, B2,C3. It follows on, it’s logical, it makes sense. It’s not at all like life. It tries to quantify things, but we haven’t got far enough to explain everything away with science and logic. As it stands, there are some things that we cannot quantify.
Literature and music and movies are here for looking at those illogical actions and feelings. Telling us that they’re okay, they assure us that we are not crazy. Maybe everyone’s kind of the same in a comforting sort of way. Maybe you’re not a social pariah. Maybe everybody feels awkward sometimes. No, you don’t have to know what to do when you’ve just accidentally insulted someone’s dead grandma or doodled unicorns on someone else’s textbook by mistake. You don’t have to know because nobody really knows, and it’s important that you at least know that. This knowledge is sometimes what makes people realise that they can speak out, go out, and deserve to live life just like everyone else. I wonder how many times someone’s come home from a party unkissed and, feeling utterly dejected, let How Soon Is Now rock them to sleep knowing they felt it too.
It is this universal feeling, our most basic wants that are addressed in the arts. This is why they’re so important; so that when we feel like wanting to be loved is asking too much, that we’re silly, that we’re so different from anyone else how can we imagine even having these things others have, we stop. We put on a record. Read a book. Watch a play, a show, a film. We are reminded that we are a straight down, right on, fully-fledged citizen of the world and we are not alone. For a brief moment we forget about all those equations and historical figures we don’t know about and the essays we are incapable of writing. I think that good culture might just offer us a snapshot of a feeling that’s a bit like love.