Aesthetic Literature in Societal Reformation – Olushola Omogbehin

As Aristotle puts, “literature is an imitation of not just nature but of life”. This is because it mirrors everything man undergoes in life. In line with this, Austin and Warren (1949) views literature as a social institution which has the primary function of reflecting happenings in society. This social function according to literary scholars is the first purpose literature serves. The other is the aesthetic function which is believed to deal with the beauty which art generally creates.

While some literary scholars favour the argument that the business of literature is to reform society, others counter the notion of the societal function of literature and argue that literature deals mainly with beauty of nature. However, since nature is present in society, this article sees these arguments to constitute the history of literature which cannot be demarcated from society and agrees as well with some of the Early Twentieth Century writers such as Eli Siegel, who challenged the existing notion of beauty in literature and suggested the need to broaden the scope of aesthetics in literature and be seen as an integral aspect of societal development.

Aesthetics which was first applied to literary art in the first half of Twentieth Century is a branch of literature that explores the nature of art, beauty, and taste. Similarly, as Kelly (1998) sees aesthetics as “critical reflection on art, culture and nature”, its exploration in writing should picture both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly aspects of society so as to conform with the social function of literature which is in tandem with Derida’s notion that “reality is textualised”, simply because, ugliness and beauty are two basic reality of the world of man.

As life is about beauty, the aesthetic value of literature can be appreciated in many ways. For example, in children through reading of pleasurable stories in poem, prose or drama while sound, rhythm and imagery can create aesthetic value for those that cannot read. Communication and the various use of language from different societies which influence religion and culture could as well serve as aesthetic value. Beauty in literature can also come through the creative reenactment of happening in the society in the form of drama, novel of poetry which can in turn serve as a medium of understanding our society.

According to McClain (1985), “Literature introduces students to a variety of texts which develops students’ inter-cultural knowledge of different cultures and shared values” while Lamarque (2007) posits that “Literature preserves the ideals of people and ideal part of human life such as faith, duty, friendship, freedom and reverence which form the beauty of human existence”. From here, it could be deduced that literature serves as an extrinsic motivation to its readers as many literary materials provide knowledge of understanding human environment- a display of aesthetics.

This formed the background knowledge of early literary scholars who wrote about their society and evolving situation thereto in politics, social, religious and culture.  Subsequent literary movements followed this tradition of mirroring every aspect of their immediate society in their work, hence rapid societal development. Emerging writers of 21st Century should endeavour to capture the ageless struggle for survival in their society so as to understand what gave rise to the present society and how it could be redefined. This however gives a kind of political and cultural slant to the interpretation of literature which invariably reestablished a link between literary studies, the political and social world.

The aesthetic design of the natural environment of man forms his social, cultural and political consciousness and how he affects his environment. For instance, the sun and the weather condition of an environment contribute to the way its inhabitant thinks and his thought pattern affects his contribution to the society. As a result, literature in all its form should intervene in the way society is governed by exposing in particular the ugly and frosting relationship between the oppressed and their oppressors. Also, since “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” (Wolfe, 1878) and the existence of beauty in ugliness (Olafioye, 2001), the beauty and ugliness induced by the physical and natural environment of man should be explored by emerging writers towards the reformation and reactivation of societal imbalance in the 21st century.

Emerging writers should as a matter of necessity consistently probe into how an aspect of human nature, vis-à-vis leadership activity alters the natural manifestation of the ecological composition of Africa which in turn alters the natural beauty of Africans. As Fogiel (2000) sees aesthetics as the appreciation and criticism of what is deemed beautiful or unattractive, the focus of emerging and upcoming writers in Africa should be on the unattractiveness of African society in every ramification as politics, economy, education, judiciary, media et al.

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