It was during what I thought would be my last semester at a state university that I came face-to-face with the truth that literature isn’t what it used to be or what I thought it was. I was disheartened when I thumbed through the anthology and page after page was about death, loss, destruction, and incredibly raw depictions of humanity. I’ll grant that I might have been a bit conservative when it came to the literature I read throughout high school. I grew up reading and loving Wordsworth, Frost, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the like. I grew up loving the beauty and goodness of those poets, though I did come to see the darker side of my favorite poets as I studied literature in college.
As a college sophomore, I couldn’t image why poets and writers would share the deepest and darkest parts of their lives on a page, a page that thousands of people in the world would read. I didn’t understand why we needed to read about death, suicide, disease, fractured relationships, and absolute heartbreak. Why couldn’t there be beauty? Where was the happiness? I told people that I just couldn’t relate to the literature I was reading. When the rest of the class was writing about dysfunction and loss, the worst thing I could dig up was a broken arm and a few surgeries. “I just don’t understand,” I said. And I didn’t. I couldn’t understand until my world shattered and God became the sole light in the darkness.
For people who are hurting, there is a craving to let go of the pain. How to you channel out the hurt without hurting other people? How do you talk about dysfunction, anger, abuse, or loss without leaving more ugliness and more destruction in your wake? You write. You write it all out on the page.
But why write? Is it the literal placing the pen upon the page and letting the words flow out that gives some relief from the loss, that brings something more to the raw emotion? What is it that drives page upon page of stories and poems in textbooks and anthologies? Is it just the fact that there is so much darkness in the world, or is it that we crave something more than the darkness so we must write about the darkness? I think we crave something in the darkness that we don’t always know.
I believe that so much raw and dark literature today is a way to express that what we really want is beauty. We want something good to come out of all the pain. We want people, who like us have been shattered and torn, to be able to say that they understand. That we are known. That others know what it is like to slog through the muck and mire and just barely survive. We are dying to say: “Look, there is something beautiful here. There is something good in the fact that both you and I have made it through.” We who write about the darkness create a type of order as we pen the story of our lives. We create rhymes and rhythms. In that is something good that conquers the disorder of our lives and the chaos of pain. What we want to know is that all the pain has a purpose. In a piece of literature that shares pain and loss with others who have had a similar experience, there is purpose–there is a vow of solidarity that says that you are not alone in your pain. The fact that you have suffered must mean that there is something beyond the seeming randomness of pain and death.
We want to know the purpose of why we suffer. And so, without believing in the divine plan of the Creator, we strive to create purpose to our suffering by writing about it. Surely, we say, there must be purpose if I can write about it and tell others that they are not alone. They are known. The purpose of pain, then, becomes the wellspring of artistic or aesthetic expression. It is reduced to simply being part of every great writer’s life. It becomes a source of inspiration. And so we write. And we crave. And God is there all the time waiting for us to see the real beauty in the suffering.
Perhaps this writing is a substitute for the reality of Beauty, the Beauty that is Christ bloodied and bruised upon a cross. Knowing loss, death, abuse, rejection, and physical pain, Beauty himself was crucified and rose again, conquering darkness. Beauty lives. Beauty Himself lives in the souls of those who know him–those who say that even in the darkness there must be a purpose that cannot be contained in the words on a page or the letters in a sentence. We must cling to that Beauty even in the raw reality of a broken world, broken lives, and broken hearts. For it is there we will find the meaning and become far better poets and authors than if we go it alone.
“Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.” –C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces