Thursday, December 31, 2015

God in Literature

George Steiner
God is always present in a good work of art, literature and music.  George Steiner says that in his book, Real Presences.  That God enters our being and asks us to change ourselves. 

Good literature, art and music have the power to change us.  They touch our souls, in other words.  Psychology tells us that a lot of our attitudes and behaviour are determined by our subconscious mind.  The subconscious mind is the seat of all the suppressed emotions which can take the shape of the devil at times –  when we lose our cool, for example. It is this subconscious mind that good literature touches, that good music soothes or good art cools.  The suppressed feelings undergo transformation under the influence of good art, literature or music.  That transformative power is God, in Steiner’s words. Aristotle gave it a more secular name: catharsis.

The process of writing is also deeply related to the subconscious mind.  Our themes and imagery, our style and diction, they all have their origin in that powerhouse called the subconscious mind.  Let us take three Jewish prophets, for example,  who found their place in the Bible and stayed there for centuries.  Isaiah viewed Yahweh as a King because the prophet came from a royal family.  For Amos, Yahweh was full of empathy for His people.  The fact is that Amos himself possessed that empathy.  Hosea described Yahweh as a jilted husband because his own wife, Gomer, was unfaithful to him.  Each one created Yahweh in his own image.

We will like the God of Isaiah or Amos or Hosea depending on the needs of our own subconscious mind.  

The author of sentences like “There is no love of life without despair about life” (Albert Camus) appealed to me much because that love as well as the despair was part of my subconscious mind.  The twilight of uncertainty in Kafka’s novels, the hopeless hope in them, has been an integral part of my own psyche. 

God can be found not only in the holy books or the dark corners of temples but also in the novels and poems of good writers. Of course, God can be found in the rose in your garden or the pine on the mountain.  In the gurgle of the brook or the murmur of the breeze.  In the pages of a novel or the lines of a poem.  It all depends on the nature and needs of your subconscious mind. 

The ideal would be each person finding his/her own God.  That is the only real God.  The rest are others’ gods and they turn inevitably bloodthirsty.  The other man’s subconscious is not mine.  Its devils are his.  Hence his gods can’t be mine. 

Good literature, art and music and a lot of other things can help us connect with our own subconscious and discover our own god. Steiner is right, after all.

Indian Bloggers


  1. Like they say, God is within us. Insightful reads, soulful music and other artistic forms only help to discover that peace and contentment within us. Thank you for the post!

    1. God is the harmony within. Good literature and similar things help us discover or attain or at least move towards that harmony.

    2. 'Harmony' - you rightly put it.

  2. Lately, God has entered into my conversations with my son who keeps asking me who created God? To be precise, he asks me who gave birth to God. I tell him that humans did. Although he is little and unable to understand the implications of what I say, he wonders. I also tell him that God is in every good thing. I tell him that to be godly means to be good. God is 'goodness' principle. And that good principle is in literature, in art, in aesthetic sensitivities of probing 'hearts'. Can God be 'found'? I think he can only be 'felt' - on the pages, in the breezes, or the fountains, or the gentle touch of loving hearts.

    1. That 'feeling' is also a kind of 'finding', isn't it? Inner harmony is both a feeling and a discovery. Discovery in the sense that we have to make a conscious effort to arrive at it, to get that feeling, to set the house in order.

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