What Does Literature Do to You?

English: Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake ...

English: Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1) Français : Ansel Adams. Les Grands Tetons et la rivière Snake (1942). Parc National des Grands Tetons, Wyoming. Archives Nationales des USA, Archives du service des parcs nationaux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent some delicious time with a few hundred Ansel Adams photographs today. But, surprisingly, the most memorable moment came not in the form of an image but as one of Adams’s favorite quotes. It hit me head on:

“People say that what we’re seeking is the meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. What we seek is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel that rapture of being alive.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

I started to wonder if this is the purpose of literature (and of all art), to send us to that place of rapture where we feel most alive? Adams’s photographs can do that.

Can a book, a poem? I would say “yes,” would you?

English: Ansel Adams: Half Dome, Apple Orchard...

English: Ansel Adams: Half Dome, Apple Orchard, Yosemite trees with snow on branches, April 1933. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

P.S. To be fair, “Moonrise, Hernandez,” a photo I saw again today, stops my heart every time I see it. I don’t think I can include it in this post without copyright infringement. Besides, looking at it over the Internet doesn’t do it justice. You can read Wikipedia’s fascinating account about the making of the photo here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonrise,_Hernandez,_New_Mexico

If you ever see a print of this surreal photo in person, you’ll understand.

12 thoughts on “What Does Literature Do to You?

  1. postmoderndonkey says:

    Seeking meaning or seeking rapture, we seek what we lack in a plane of ephemeral indulgence. That which feeds us emotionally, spiritually/intellectually even to satiety will fade and we will seek further for that fulfillment not unlike an addict on the perfect drug.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, I am an addict with the distinction that reading brings me clarity and joy rather than confusion and euphoria. You have only to look at my library to recognize where my next fix will come from.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I am reminded of the time I watched the Alvin Ailey company perform “Revelations” at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley—or of the time I heard Interpreti Veneziani play Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni in Venice. Tears of joy. My life has never been the same.

  2. johnnycrabcakes says:

    If I am paying attention, it allows me to realize that “place of rapture where [I] feel most alive” is right here, “on the purely physical plane.” It brings me back always to here, now, to this “experience of being alive”, to realize that I need nothing more. This alone is so mind-glowingly incredible that I need “seek” nothing else. I meant to type “mind-blowingly” but danged if mind-glowingly isn’t a good way to put it.

    “One neither seeks nor expects to find some greater truth lurking behind the veil of appearances. What appears and how you respond to it: that alone is what matters.”

    “In taking the everyday details of life for granted, we fail to appreciate the extraordinary fact that we are conscious at all.”

    –Stephen Batchelor

    Umm, not sure if the connection to these quotes is clear, but for me they speak to the same awareness. Batchelor’s ideas just keep coming up again and again for me.

    What else but perplexity could
    confront the sheer
    audacity of existence?

    If you’re not perplexed,
    you’re not paying attention.

  3. Laurel Leigh says:

    If we’re reading or writing or expressing our creativity in some other fashion, it’s always a choice, and in my mind, generally a good choice. I like the Campbell quote you included and wouldn’t have thought of the word “rapture,” but I have to agree. A friend commented to me how another friend expresses her creativity through closing business deals. It was interesting to ponder that and to find that I had to agree, it’s not the form of expression as what we gain from it individually, I think. So short story or contract closed, I guess we all find our rapture somewhere and that’s what keeps us getting up in the morning. Thanks for a thoughtful post!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I watch my husband use his creative energy in many ways, including strategic business development, building treehouses, and racing decrepit sailboats (including finding ‘in a pinch’ substitute parts that will work when something breaks while out on the water). To each his own passion.

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