The great literary divide

Good writers are celebrated as keen observers of life. Keen observers can easily find things that are wrong in life. Disasters, malice and hypocrisy abound. While popular entertainment suggests that certain kinds of people are usually good and other kinds are usually evil, a keen observer will find that evil abounds in all kinds of people.
A keen observer who sees abundant evil in society can make two conclusions about it. One conclusion is that life is irretrievably flawed. If life was still under warranty we could return it, but since it isn’t under warranty there is nothing that can be done. There is no point in caring about anything because everything is broken. There is nothing better in life than to seek momentary pleasures where one can, and there is no reason to resist impulsive desires. There is a different but related conclusion; since I have suffered a great deal from life or society, life or society owes me compensation. I cannot really proceed with living until this arrives.

The other conclusion is while evil is abundant, good is also abundant. The individual is free to respond either to the good or the evil, and is also responsible for how she responds. She can choose to add to life’s quantity of evil or to life’s quantity of good. When tempted to condemn or avenge oneself against evildoers, one stops to ask ‘am I really any better?’

While the Christian world view favors the second conclusion, I also think a truly keen observer would find it by observation. I think the first conclusion arose because of the unstated assumption in the human heart that existence owes us an ideal situation.

Much of what is acclaimed as serious modern literature is by writers who opt for the first conclusion. I remember disliking English classes in high school, even though I was a proficient reader. My complaint: why did we have to read such depressing books where nothing ever happened? Partly childish, yes. But partly I think I was aware (although I didn’t express it that well) of the prevalent pessimism of these reportedly great writers

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