In our positivistic civilization, one of the inappropriate compliments sometimes paid to literature is to reduce it to ‘artistic knowledge’. Not that such cognizance does not exist, but art is both more and less than knowledge. It is unique, sui generis, a thing in and of itself. And its experience is one of the precious justifications for our own existence.
While the work of art ‘enriches’ (another unsuitable analogy), at the same time it creates a postpartum sense of loss: the first experience is unique, an act never to be repeated — no matter how great the understanding and appreciation later achieved through the most intent study. If only we could erase from our minds the memory of our favourite books and return to the still unsuspected wonder contained in those works! When we recommend them to our friends, we do so in envy — that we cannot recreate that initial magic for ourselves. And the more we love a book, the greater is our own wistfulness. We cannot step into the same river twice, not so much because the river is different, but because we ourselves are in flux.
– John Glad, Foreward to Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales