The inescapable miscellany of particulars

The recognition that literature promotes a special kind of perception illuminates the contrast between miscellany and integrity. Modern science generates a general intellectual tendency to subsume particular phenomena, under general laws.  We acquire this disposition from an early age. When a child dissects a tadpole in a school laboratory, she is taught that the interest is not in that creature, but in coming to an understanding of the anatomy of tadpoles in general, of all tadpoles.  Were she to rest with the thought that she has come to know something just about that particular tadpole, she would be seen to suffer from an intellectual defect.

Literature has no such aspiration.  A literary person, were she to find a tadpole alluring, would likely visit her attentions upon that one creature.  Love, a theme more common than God (and not always unrelated) in literature, is typically the love of someone. A poet may have general opinions she presents about the nature of love and about which qualities are lovable and which not, but when she is not in this way being a philosopher manqué in passing, when she is most doing what a poet does, her work is expressing or conveying the expression of the love that someone has for another.  That is the link between the expressive aspects of literature that I began with and the inescapable miscellany of particulars that litter a literary work, particulars that in science or philosophy would be viewed as confusion, clutter, failure.

Akeel Bilgrami

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