The universe is huge. Time is impossibly vast. Trillions of creatures crawl and swim and fly through our planet. Billions of people live, billions came before us, and billions will come after. We cannot count, cannot even properly imagine, the number of perspectives and variety of experiences offered by existence.
We sip all of this richness through the very narrowest of straws: one lifetime, one consciousness, one perspective, one set of experiences. Of all the universe has, has had, and will have to offer, we can know only the tiniest fraction. We are alone and minuscule and our lives are over in a blink.
All of this strikes me as terribly sad, and if I believed Someone were in charge, I could muster an argument that our awareness of vastness makes our tininess unfair.
But here’s the thing. Literature lets us experience life through a second consciousness. For a time we share the perspective and experience of the author and his imagination. Our experience of the universe is broadened, multiplied.
Without literature, we are all limited to our own lives. With it, we can know something of what it is to be other people, to walk in their shoes, to see the world their way.
Literature needs no further defense than this, I would say. It is our species’s most advanced and successful technology for cheating dismal fate out of the abstract aloneness it would otherwise impose on us.