Thursday, December 11, 2014

Literature, A Mode of Knowledge: "The Lost Country"

This week I'd like to share with you a small but fine literary journal I have discovered--The Lost Country. It's a bi-annual publication of fiction, poetry, criticism, and reviews produced by The Exiles--a group of men and women in Forth Worth, TX, who in the tradition of the Inklings have founded a club for the creation and appreciation of great literature. The magazine is only in its third year, but they already have some fine work to showcase. This fall's issue includes an essay on William Wordsworth, a fairy tale with a generous dose of cracked humor, a plethora of insightful poems (including--I admit it--one of my own), and much more. I encourage you to take a look at it online for free.

While exploring The Exiles' website a bit more deeply, I happened across their philosophical vision statement, "Literature as a Mode of Knowledge". By the first two sentences, I was hooked:

The members of The Exiles share the conviction that literature is one of the modes of knowledge through which truth becomes accessible to man. The contemplation of a literary work of art, far from being a momentary diversion, an escape from reality, is, rather, a vision of that deeper reality which we mean by the term Truth.

As a young woman who feels a vocation to write, this idea is extremely exciting to me. Of course, I have read such speculation on the purpose of literature before, but every time I encounter it, it reminds me all over again of the real, joyful, intimidating nature of my art. I'll explain what I mean in a moment.

Often in the daily (well, almost-daily) grind of working on my novel--agonizing over adjectives, bridging plot holes, chiseling out characters--I can forget what all the labor is actually for. That's why I enjoy stepping back and realizing the true end of my craft, which The Exiles express quite beautifully:

...[L]iterature presents an eschatological view of human life and experience, a view as though from the end of time when the meaning of everything that has happened is seen, a view in the light of eternity which is beyond our ordinary mode of perception. By seeing human actions in relation to their end, the literary work of art reveals that all the events, the agonies and the conflicts, of human life have meaning.

Now you see what I mean by intimidating? What a calling! The writer not only has a responsibility to hone his or her craft. The craft is inextricably bound to the pursuit of transcendent truth in the human condition. Keeping the physical ear tuned to the sound of the right words is just as important as keeping the spiritual ear alert for that inner harmony, that music of meaning. Writing requires perceptiveness on multiple levels.

This concept is as fascinating as it is frustrating. Lately an odd sense of the mystery of reality, in relation to the writer's craft, has been pressing on my mind. Every detail of real life seems overwhelmingly important. How does one really describe the glimmer of wet grapes, or the whistling hush of bird wings, or the satisfying pain of a hard run in the cold? Or, on the spiritual level, how does one truly pin down that elusive, irrepressible impulse bound in our beings, Love? Each experience has its own unique reality, which we only encounter directly when undergoing the experience. Words are comparatively vague. Writing seems to me a bit like trying to hand-mold a fine clay sculpture while wearing very bulky mittens. Words, those little meanings enfleshed in sound and shape by language, are all we have to trace the inimitable outline of God's reality.

This is the "mode of knowledge" that is literature. Like any art that tries to reconcile the real and the ideal, it's tremendously difficult to do well. In fact, given that no human can be all-knowing, it may be impossible to perfect. Nevertheless we try. The people behind magazines like The Lost Country try. On the whole, the results are quite beautiful. So I applaud their efforts, and quietly return to my own work, re-inspired.

Quotes in this post are copied with permission from the article "Literature as a Mode of Knowledge",