Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Now that you've completed the LIT 165 Topics in Literature adventure, collected at least one piece of your general education puzzle, I hope you're ready to address the question "what is literature?" and "what is an imaginary world?" in a meaningful way.

I hope you leave this course with something more than a "Man, I'm glad that's over" sigh of relief, and I personally apologize if you don't.

Literature is an imaginary world. The imaginary worlds it invents are sometimes more or less fantastic, more or less alternative to the reality we all know and love—but all literature creates imaginary worlds. Every work of literature is understood to be a fiction, a pretend reality, an imaginary world.

What do these imaginary worlds have to offer us? It all depends on what you're looking for. I don't like to presume too much, so I will speak for myself as someone who's always been an enthusiastic reader, and as someone who discovered literature as a discipline only after I came to college. As objects of study, these literary worlds are infinitely rich, not only with information, but with a very unique kind of experience. They've always presented themselves to me like goldmines; I love finding that streak, and I love chipping away at the nuggets. Sometimes it's the process of chipping away that I most value, that experience of discovery, of unearthing something which was buried in time or space like treasure: some meaningful self-discovery, some new insight into others nothing like me.

In all seriousness, I would have to say, too, that these fictional worlds provide a refuge from the real world—a necessary refuge. The way I feel it, literature is a shelter from the storm, a place where we can safely escape whenever too much ugliness and falseness intrude, because the art of literature is one reminder of the beauty and truth that exists all around us. It's one way of bringing order and meaning to the chaos and clutter of daily living. It's a sweet and beautiful and useful refuge. Like all art, it's artifice—but it's a magnificent artifice founded upon an aspiration, an ideal.

Whether we're talking about The Divine Comedy, Waiting for Godot, Brave New World, or the timeless story of Adam and Eve, literature is an invitation to enter a contemplative, quiet, solitary space. That's the offer, and like any offer we can take it or leave it. There's no hard sell to fend off. It's a simple choice, and it's all yours: to read or not to read.

I turned to Keats to help me begin this semester, and I'd like to turn to him once again before we end it. This time I'm leading you to Keats to appreciate what he has to say about solitude, the one certain doorway to an imaginary world we can enter at will—that quiet, contemplative place. Reading is a solitary activity, but you are not alone, as I believe this poem so beautifully expresses.

O Solitude! If I Must With Thee Dwell (gloss)
by John Keats

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings: climb with me the steep,—
Nature's observatory—whence the dell,
In flowery slopes, its river's crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
'Mongst boughs pavilioned, where the deer's swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.
But though I'll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refined,
Is my soul's pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.