Originally written on April the 15th, 2013
Tonight I’m looking at literature and authors and writing in a way I haven’t allowed myself to do in far too long. I just haven’t given myself the time, I suppose. But I have been tonight, and it does what it always does. Fills me with some strange mix of melancholy and happiness. I simultaneously feel that the whole world is worth celebrating and worth alienating myself from. The two shouldn’t be mutually inclusive, but there we go. You read to feel as if you are a part of something. I don’t know who it is I happen to be paraphrasing, but I’m pretty damn sure I’m paraphrasing someone. If you read about a thought or a feeling you only ever believed could be felt in isolation, then you understand. No other medium can do that. Other mediums can do bleak, can do desolation, can do joy, and happiness, but only literature can contain that sense of inclusion. It allows you to get inside someone’s innermost thoughts and feelings, the thoughts they are only half able to express to themselves in the privacy of their own head, and you know immediately what they are attempting to say. They’re not saying it, and nor do you have the vocabulary or the ability to finish the thought off for them, but you understand. Because the vocabulary doesn’t exist, but the feeling still does. There’s no name for it, no word. There’s not even any words apt to describe it, but it’s there anyway. You feel it. And the character in the book, the writer of the poem, he feels it too. You know it. It’s expressed, not in words or actions but in a feeling. It is conveyed through every syllable, every full stop. The sense behind the words, the feeling in them. Their meaning, their cadence, their shape… The things that aren’t spoken or described, the negative space on the page… All these things combine to create a sense of something that should only exist in isolation.
You’re walking through your own neighbourhood, nothing is really different from any other day – it’s sunny, or it’s raining, you’re listening to music, or you’re not, you’re dwelling on some event or other, or you’re just looking around yourself at the day. Nothing is different, and yet for some reason everything feels more real, or less real. Happier, or less happy. There’s a feeling in your heart or your soul or your brain or your stomach that isn’t joy and isn’t melancholy, but it’s somehow both and neither all at the same time and you can’t comprehend it or understand it, but everything feels right and you don’t want it to stop. That is literature. That indescribable, paradoxical, ridiculous feeling that you can’t even feel. Understanding that you’re not alone in feeling or not feeling it, that you’re not alone in being unable to talk about it. Understanding that it shared with you, through the pages, through time, space. From the authors mind to you, and who knows how many others. And for that brief moment you feel a part of something. You really do. You feel validated and understood and unbelieving.
The written word can make you feel experiences and situations that you have never experienced. That you never will. Not see in your minds eye, not imagine, but feel. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. The description is almost non existent. The sentences short, the words hard. Seeing the action is not easy. Conversely, feeling it is. You have to take your time over novels like that. You have to cut them down, little by little, so you can manage them. Because they’re difficult to read. In more ways than one. Intellectually, you will struggle. You may have to look up words. You will have to linger over each word, each sentence. No half skim reading here. You need to feel the words. And if you let yourself, you will. The language, the form, the shape and sound and feel of each word as it passes through your mind will take you there, and it will not be comfortable. It will be bleak, it will be despairing, it will be desolate. You will be alone, scared, cold and hungry. You will be near tears for no reason. Tears of pain and frustration. You won’t ‘feel for’ the characters in any traditional sense. You won’t pity them. Because you feel almost as if you’re with them. Pity would be indulgent, unnecessary. Weak. All you can do is endure with them. When such a novel ends, you won’t feel loss. But you won’t feel relief either. Instead you’ll feel like you’re still there, and you’ll never truly be able to leave again.