Works of literature are only the product of those collisions with the unknown reality—collisions whose repercussions, when we have withdrawn into the shelter of ourselves, we try to justify, harmonize, account for, to subdue to a smoother rhythm in the current of our thought, now resuming, which for a moment has been shattered and torn. And the individual writer, however detached his intelligence, however rich his imagination, however comprehensive his range, must inevitably produce justification for a particular set of values which enables him to appear as a hero—it must gratify his deepest desires, and even if the hero of his book is defeated in action, he must be morally victorious. Like the instinct which makes us blink our eye when anything approaches it, like the fear which makes us take refuge from a bombardment, the work of art has only the dignity of any other self-protective movement: it is merely one of the necessities for survival. In a work of art, imagination and reason are like the leucocytes of our physical nature which, when an infection has occurred, rush to mass themselves at the breach, ingest the alien elements and arrest the progress of the disease—with this difference, that the works of art, unlike the dead and discharged leucocytes, for some time and under certain conditions, retain their efficacy.
AGAINST COMPLACENCY IN READING: Edmund Wilson on Dostoevsky: