Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Cheering Nature of Tragedy

An important article, in my view, by Blake Morrison in Saturday's Guardian Review. He reports on a Merseyside scheme being run by Jean Davis of the Reader Centre at the University of Liverpool in which around fifty reading groups of ten or so have been created for people with physical or emotional health problems, learning disabilities and other problems, and in which the act of reading and discussing books or poetry is proving to be strikingly therapeutic.

The most interesting thing to me is a main point which emerges for Morrison: that it is those books dealing with tragic and serious human issues, and the 'difficult' classics, which are the most therapeutic, operating via catharsis:
As Thomas Hardy recognised, "If a way to the better there be it exacts a full look at the worst." Hence Davis's preference for classic texts which address existential concerns, not anodyne pep-ups.
(and he wryly notes that Hardy could be 'brought low by the excessive optimism of his peers').

Morrison goes on to point out that the therapy can extend beyond those suffering, and makes some points which have been expressed previously on this blog:
This is surely the other great therapeutic power of literature - it doesn't just echo our own experience, recognise, vindicate and validate it - it takes us places we hadn't imagined but which, once seen, we never forget. When literature is working - the right words in the right place - it offers an orderliness which can shore up readers against the disorder, or lack of control, that afflicts them. Most misery memoirs fail in this respect - they invite readers to be prurient rather than to identify, exaggerate where no exaggeration is necessary, and are too clamorous to grant the space to contemplate and withdraw.
Maybe someone should tell the publishers who find the 'dark' and 'difficult' stuff 'too uncommercial' that there's a whole market out there after all.
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