Jon Marcantoni: The power and potential of literature

Jon Marcantoni


What is literature to me? I think every art has its distinct advantage in the way it chooses to express itself. Art is based on the senses, can we feel it, touch it, taste it? Art has to excite has to excite us, it has to move us, not only to enjoy the experience, but to be challenge by it, to act in accordance with the message of that particular work. Painting is pure visuals, same with still photography, it tells the story of mankind through a still life that speaks not only to that moment but to that particular state of being. Moving photography, film or video, is the great visual representation of God that exists. There is something holy in film, it not only captures a still life, but an entire movement. It creates worlds, characters, in real and imagined time. Filmmaking is truly an act of God, that is, creating man and nature and space and time, all to suit a story. Music, by using sounds, can manipulate my mind in such a way that I time travel, to my past, to my daydreams, to moods and moments that defy linguistic expression. Music is the primal scream, communication without words, that much like a painting or a photograph, captures a moment and analyzes the emotional weight of it. Dance is the manifestation of music, it is the joining of the audible and the physical, giving form to the sounds that captivate us, that we wish to understand but also kind of fear, and through the dances that emotional turmoil resolves itself by taking the chaos of sound and controlling it in movement.

What then, is literature?

Literature is the ultimate art. It uses language to manipulate time and capture humanity and nature, and to create, literature creates in the same way that film does, it lingers on moments like a painting, it creates rhythm and then contains it through grammar, it uses language to define the undefinable. It also, and here is where literature has the real advantage, not only creates worlds but it creates personalized worlds. Whereas the world created on film is definitive, literature creates an experience that changes according to whomever is reading it. It is a representation of the scientific theory that states that for every choice there are multiple realities where a person has selected each choice. The book you and I read may have the same blueprint, but the characters, the locations, the meaning, means different things to us. No art is as fluid as literature, as undefinable, because it is an experience that relies on your personal experience and preferences to influence the world it creates.

And this is why I feel it is important that we as writers not limit ourselves. It is very easy to get in the mindset of being safe or generic in order to attract publishers. I’ve certainly done it, and it is a tendency I fight against. There is a difference between adhering to a style and the rules of that style and altering your very voice to fit a supposed expectation imposed upon on us through literary journals and interviews with publishing professionals about what they look for in a book. Art cannot breathe in this environment. Literature has the potential to inspire, to engage, to change the world, why settle for mediocrity just because it might help you sell a book?

But the desire is clear and logical, we want to be successful, financially and artistically. We want this crazy habit of writing to support us and our families so we can dedicate every day to it. But maybe, just maybe, if you let yourself be yourself, and write what you love the way you want to write it, someone will like it enough to publish it. And if you promote it hard enough, it could be successful, you never know.

While the commercial needs and artistic needs of creating art are unavoidable, we should never lose sight of the great weapon we have at our disposal. To create worlds, to create relationships that inspire, that cause movements, the writers of history have often been associated with revolutionaries and with good reason, because if a book can imagine a better world, then why shouldn’t we? Literature is a weapon, and we should wield it with discern