The Matter and Mattering of Literature
Making Sahitya Matter
We have long spoken about the uses of literature. However, this chapter for the first time speaks about the uselessness of literature, or sahitya. True to the spirit of the across in the book and Ghosh’s (in)fusion approach, this chapter explains what it means to see uselessness as a nonevent of literature, as the powerful moment that constitutes what he argues is the sacredness of literature, sahitya’s secular sacredness. The chapter provides a very unconventional reading of Robert Frost’s “Birches” to show how the poem can be experienced uselessly, beyond the domains of the reified and accepted modes of reading. This chapter, then, is about literature’s mattering in the nonevent, the unnamed, the unascribed, something that redefines our understanding of use or waste. This constructs the sacredness of sahitya.
Literature Matters Today
After an introductory dialogue with Ranjan Ghosh’s chapter 1, Miller asks: “Does literature matter today?” With this question in mind, the essay, with frequent references to Ghosh’s assertions, tells the story of Miller’s life-long love of literature and puzzlement by it when he shifted in college from majoring in physics to majoring in English at the time of the rapid change to new forms of digital telecommunications. A series of openings of famous literary texts (all but one in English) are then cited and used as the basis for identifying some chief features of that strange thing we call literature. Claims are made, on the basis of Wolfgang Iser’s and Maurice Blanchot’s theories of literature, that literature matters because it serves three essential human functions: social critique, the pleasure of the text, and allowing a materialization of the imaginary or an endless approach to an unapproachable imaginary. Though human civilization would not come to an end if literature, in the old-fashioned sense of printed books, were to vanish in an age of what Miller calls “prestidigitalization,” much would be lost that video games, films, television, and popular songs can hardly replace.