We delight in stories, Aristotle says, because we learn from them. This search for awareness – gathering the meaning of things – is, he says, our greatest pleasure.
Aeons ago we sat round the fire in our Paleolithic caves with the cold darkness and the great unknown at our backs, sharing stories about where the antelope herds were or how to escape the cave bear or the lion, stories about our ancestors and the meaning of this magical mystery of life.
None of that has changed: stories still portray and share our experiences, teach us of dangers and opportunities and of right and wrong ways of living, exchange our visions of existence. They give us multiple lives, and we gain awareness from each one.
Awareness is wisdom, and philosophy simply means a love of wisdom. Stories bring us this awareness, and awareness makes us free. Freedom allows us to live more deeply, and thus to deepen our awareness of life’s many meanings. It is a great circle where our understanding is constantly growing.
We rarely sit now at campfires with danger at our backs, but it is important to remember those days, and to understand the dangers that stalk us today. Homer, Tolstoi, Gogol, Hugo, Hemingway – what makes them great today is that their stories still help us gather the meaning of things, bring us the awareness tantamount to wisdom, make our lives freer and deeper through understanding.
To be a writer or a reader is a great gift, yin and yang, neither existing without the other. As Camus said, “to create is to live twice”, and reading is creating just as is writing — and through it we can live and gather the meaning of many lives. Gathering the meaning of things is our greatest pleasure because it is the most important act of life, the act of understanding. And the moment we stop we cease to live.