If the novel is dead, so are we.

Author Junot Díaz reminds us why fiction isn't just “nice to have."

Junot Díaz: One of the functions that art has is not only is art didactic; art can be in many ways persuasive or seductive. But art is also transgressive and the transgressive function of art is fundamental in a society that often shies away from the difficult topics, the difficult subjects and the difficult conversations it needs to engage in.

We all live in societies that repress and silence what’s troubling, what’s naughty, what’s sort of, in some ways, I think threatening. But art has this way of provoking us. Art has this way of imposing these silences, breaking these silences and posing these conversations on us. And I think it’s absolutely important that we as a society think in ways that we often don’t imagine subjects that we often sort of shy away from and enter silences that we’re not often encouraged to do so. Because in these silences, in what’s disavowed awaits who we really are as a culture and a society. And I think art has been great for this.

But as people, you know, members of a civic society, we also have to push ourselves into the places that are not entirely comfortable. In silence is where tyranny and oppression really does its work and therefore the conversations that are often relegated to the margins, the conversations that are considered impolite, those are the conversations that are much more likely to lead to a more fair and just society. It’s not readily apparent to folks, but literature is one of our great artistic mediums. It’s one of our great innovations, which allows a reader to not only transport themselves temporally, but also spatially — that permits them to enter not just other people, but other worlds.

It’s the closest that we come to telepathy, to be able to inhabit other people’s minds. It’s a wonderful exercise in compassion and sympathies and when one thinks about it sort of, you know over the long term, a relationship with literature produces extraordinary effects in that it brings the reader not only in contact with other times and other places, but it brings the reader in contact with themselves. Literature opens inside of a reader a space of deliberation, which allows them to not only reconstruct their own subjectivity, but also to dialogue with themselves and with other conceptualizations of other selves. It’s an extraordinary art and I think that it’s one of the best ways that people can educate the soul. And simply because it’s not as popular as, say, as like Twitter doesn’t make it any less significant or any less important.

Literature, explains Pulitzer-winning writer Junot Díaz, is the closest that we've come to telepathy. It's through literature that we educate our souls by transporting ourselves into some other character's mind. It builds empathy. It allows for new perspectives. It triggers provocation in all the best ways. Novels aren't as popular a medium today as something like Twitter, but that doesn't mean they're not still hugely important.

Surprising Science

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.

Keep reading Show less

VR experiments manipulate how people feel about coffee

A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.

Credit: Escobar / Petit / Velasco, Frontiers in Psychology
Surprising Science
  • Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
  • In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
  • The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.
Keep reading Show less

Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
  • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
  • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
Keep reading Show less

Is empathy always good?

Research has shown how important empathy is to relationships, but there are limits to its power.

Videos
  • Empathy is a useful tool that allows humans (and other species) to connect and form mutually beneficial bonds, but knowing how and when to be empathic is just as important as having empathy.
  • Filmmaker Danfung Dennis, Bill Nye, and actor Alan Alda discuss the science of empathy and the ways that the ability can be cultivated and practiced to affect meaningful change, both on a personal and community level.
  • But empathy is not a cure all. Paul Bloom explains the psychological differences between empathy and compassion, and how the former can "get in the way" of some of life's crucial relationships.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast