One thing I learned in studying literature

Dear Sir,

          Did you know I rarely laughed back in college? That’s because I was mostly alone then. It sounds emo, but yeah, it was sad. Third year I shifted courses and majored in Literature without my parents knowing. That was probably the first best decision I’ve done in my life. I loved it. I love words, I love stories, I love fiction, I love poetry, I love drama, I love culture through the eyes of literature. But I felt no joy. After our first term, my poetry professor even gave me “The Soul Selects Her Own Society” award after Emily Dickinson’s poem. I was known as the quiet one sitting in the corner, until now I don’t know if I’ll take that as a compliment, besides Dickinson was suicidal. Recently, I bumped into a college mate. She noticed I was different now, that my aura was lighter – happier. She said I was melancholy then (yup we have the nerve to use such words, we’re Lit majors).

          You know that saying art imitates life? That art is a form of lie that tells the truth? That’s true sir. I guess I just reflected what I read. I have known reality through the eyes of literature sir. The stories told by the world reflect the reality of the world. My world literature professor once discussed to us this idea called zeitgeist. It means the “spirit or the times” or “spirit of the age,” taken from the German words Zeit meaning “time” and Geist meaning “spirit” or “ghost.” I’d like to call it the spirit of a generation. After studying fiction and poetry from different nations in previous and present centuries, she asked us what the zeitgeist of our time is. Then she showed us this painting by Edvard Munch and told us the spirit of our time is cynicism. I looked at the painting and agreed with her.

The Scream

          Ghostface’s mask from the Scream flicks was based on this painting. Mask designer Brigitte Sleiertin stated that the mask displayed different emotions, “It’s a horrible look, it’s a sorry look, it’s a frantic look.” Ironic how we do look horrible, sorry, and frantic most of the time. It’s more ironic how Ghostface actually became a symbol for death for a generation.

          Listen sir, one thing I’ve learned, one thing I’ve been so convinced of in studying literature is that despair is the depth of the human condition. All the fiction, drama, poetry, and essays I studied were all reflections of human desperation: always identifying the problems, never giving or finding adequate answers. It’s as if every word was a cry of the human heart, trapped and screaming from a pit, and yet nobody would listen, until they…we have grown so immune we believe that life is just how it is. There’s no way out and we give up. Hope is crushed, we become cynical.

          I have lost my faith in humanity sir. I know plenty who have lost their faith in humanity.  This is probably why most writers and thinkers are prone to depression and suicide. It’s because they have a deeper understanding of human heart: Sylvia Plath, Edgar Alan Poe, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, Earnest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Blake, Agatha Christie, T.S.Elliot…I could go on the whole day sir…Some of the best names, famous for shaping words, they knew there was a problem. They knew they need answers. But the void was too big, and the ideas – the words of the world cannot fill it.

          I loved studying literature, but I was melancholic sir, because I learned the depth and void of the human heart. I saw the potential evil residing within every human heart. I knew sir, because I came across the depth and void of my heart. I felt the evil within my heart. And I couldn’t get out. That’s when I greatly understood that the world needs a savior. That’s when I realized I need a savior.

But you knew all these better than I do, don’t you?

I’m sorry if this is a bit heavy. But I have to tell the truth.



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