Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Does good fiction give us empathy?

Neil Gaiman says good fiction gives us empathy, but if so, why does the gap between rich and poor continue to grow? Is it that we simply don't have enough good fiction about the need to share? In Road to Wigan Pier, written in the 1930s, George Orwell argues that there haven't been any truly great socialist writers. I look at the success of Webber's Les Miserables and laugh bitterly—millions for its producers, but life in the trickle-up economy doesn't change.

Similarly, I doubt bad art makes anyone indifferent to suffering. Either you have a gut reaction against writers like Ayn Rand, or you love them because they validate your solipsism.

Bookstores are filled with secret religions. All powerful stories are sacred texts that tell their readers how to think about the world. But the question remains: does a religion change you, or do you find a religion that resonates with you? In bookstores, we learn how to seek the stories we will want to know.

My only conclusion for now is that even if good fiction only preaches to the choir, sometimes, the choir needs preaching in order to keep singing.