As one who writes fiction and not literature (at least, yet – one can hope, right?), this statement has often intrigued me. Forgetting for the moment what distinguishes literature from fiction, what would make one a necessity and not the other? Or one a necessity at all?
The necessity means we need it to get through life. Now, one could get through life I suppose by simply tending to a food source, their shelter, and their health. However, for most, simply doing that requires a fiction or two. A fiction of why the seasons change in a way that helps or hurts me. A fiction of why someone gets to rule over me...whether as king in most details of my life, or for 8 hours out of every day. A fiction on why some girl does or doesn't like me. A fiction on why I don't have luxury.
The fictions help us explain our life at a level that allows our mind to “be okay”, to make sense of things without going crazy, to put a small meaning onto things. It helps us to remember. But the things may or may not be lasting meaning in and of themselves. Life without meaning is harsh. At a minimum, fiction entertains as a story around the campfire to draw us together, with one another around the campfire, or with others around their campfires in the past and in other places. They tell us our story. They hint at the grand, even though they may not take us there in full color and detail.
Literature, the really good stuff, however, is a luxury. It does “taje us there” in full color and detail and rises higher. A grand story that tells of grand events, grand people, grand concepts. Siddhartha is a story within literature that while it may help us with dealing with a social class we find ourselves in, is also a story that teaches us of seeking, of harmony, of finding truth. Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man teaches us of how we develop and grow. Lord of the Rings teaches us about what the small person in each of us can do to change the world and of free will. In some ways, these are a luxury. They are universal and fundamental. They are completely engaging, life-changing, ...but they don't always help us make sense of the little disconnected events that start and stop on one or two days. So sometimes, fiction is necessary, but literature is a luxury. And, of course, literature has to be “good” - constructed well, as an art – and that is a luxury, although it is no excuse for fiction not to aspire to be good.
Also, of course, while fiction is “made-up”, it does not mean that the story and the lessons are false. It is the truths found within the made-up that make them necessary and a luxury.
I recently passed 100,000 “reads” on Scribd. A small, meaningless milestone. To celebrate, I wrote a memoir that is certainly a fiction, with one of my fictional characters (Jack) and my dog (Dog), who can talk in my fiction. In such a way I was able to explore the event for myself, and place it within the context I find myself in...doing yard work, working a real job, having a family and friends, etc. Perhaps others have small milestones that they reach which wouldn't mean anything to others but we should not always be so literal in assuming that.
Anyways, for all you know, Jack might exist, and my dog might really talk in some important way, if we only listened correctly. It is the mystery of not really knowing life that allow us to draw upon the corners and just-out-of-peripheral-vision odd happenings in order to make a story, and have it be believable while we read it. Doing so may help us explain and entertain and connect. Not doing it would have allowed another black hole to form in our collective memory.
If you get a chance, I hope you will enjoy the 'memoir', and leave a comment!