Literature creates a sense of identity and community

Literature creates a sense of identity and community

By helping to create language, literature creates a sense of identity and community. I spoke initially of Dante, but we might also think of what Greek civilization would have been like without Homer, German identity without Luther’s translation of the Bible, the Russian language without Aleksandr Pushkin,or Indian civilization without its foundation epics.
And literature keeps the individual’s language alive as well. These days many lament the birth of a new “telegraphese,” which is being foisted upon us through e-mail and mobile-phone text messages, where one can even say “I love you” with short-message symbols; but let us not forget that the youngsters who send messages in this new form of shorthand are, at least in part, the same young people who crowd those new cathedrals of the book, the multi-story bookstores,and who,even when they flick through a book without buying it, come into contact with cultivated and elaborate literary styles to which their parents, and certainly their grandparents, had never been exposed.
Although there are more of them compared with the readers of previous generations, these young people clearly are a minority of the six billion inhabitants of this planet; nor am I idealistic enough to believe that literature can offer relief to the vast number of people who lack basic food and medicine. But I would like to make one point: the wretches who roam around aimlessly in gangs and kill people by throwing stones from a highway bridge or setting fire to a child – whoever these people are – do not turn out this way because they have been corrupted by a computer “new-speak” (they don’t even have access to a computer), but rather because they are excluded from the universe of literature and from those places where, through education and discussion, they might be reached by a glimmer from the world of values that stems from and sends us back again to books.



Umberto Eco



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