people really need to think about the globally transformative power of literature and suchlike. it would be nice to have a realistic assessment of such things, rather than a bunch of obviously false hyperbolic catch-phrases. in particular, people are extremely nostalgic now for modernism, which could be anything from yeats and joyce to allen ginsberg and picasso and de kooning and bob dylan. it is a territory infested by superduper stupendous geniuses, and one vaguely misremembers about it that in it half-cracked egomaniacs remade the entire universe. or maybe everyone's just nostalgic for that moment when they were 17 and some poem mattered.
an excruciating example of all this is an essay by joyce carol oates in the august 13 new york review of books titled "inspiration and obsession in life and literature". it's a very pretentious and yet half-assed journey through plato and wittgenstein, with plenty of yeats and updike and virginia woolf. that the whole thing is pseudo is nailed by the the end bit, which is a compressed little collage of cliches. her readers can be expected to nod along and think that finally someone's saying what they've been thinking; that just shows you the sad decline of the average aging dinner-party where the guests are quasi-intellectuals.
Without the stillness, thoughtfulness, and depths of art, we would have no shared culture - no collective memory. As if [sic?] memory were destroyed in the human brain, our identities corrode, and we "were" no one - we become merely a shifting succession of impressions attached to no fixed source. As it is, in contemporary society, where so much concentration is focused on social media, insatiable in its fleeting interests, the "stillness and thoughtfulness" of a more permanent art seems threatened. As human beings we crave "meaning" - which only art can provide; but social media provide no meaning, only this succession of fleeting impressions whose underlying principle may simply be to urge us to consume products.
The motive for metaphor, then, is a motive for survival as a species, as a culture, and as individuals.
that is, instagram is the apocalypse. lord knows how or why social media is incompatible with art (i'd say it demonstrably is not), making it impossible to write poetry or paint. perhaps it is itself a set of mediums for art. if you think facebook is incompatible with our survival as a species, as a culture, and as individuals, i think you've lost your marbles, if any. also, what a wretched bit of writing that is.
and if you think the modernist novel is a fundamental source of human memory or meaning, you have very little acquaintance with our species. relax and let the girls take their selfies or whatever. there are a number of threats to human survival (oh, the state, nuclear weapons, capitalism, perhaps climate change). that we haven't produced the next updike (if indeed we haven't) is not among them.
i say this to people all the time: your entertainments, and even your most moving experiences, do not have to be the meaning of everyone's life. even if the human species could survive perfectly well without the modernist novel, or indeed the novel, that does not show that a good novel is not a good thing. what you yourself do doesn't actually have to be the most important or the only important thing to be a valid activity, etc. also, read over what you write or think over what you say, and try to be sure it isn't just obviously false, even if your friends nod along.
if i said what she said, but i said it about philosophy, you might get suspicious that my lament had a certain self-serving quality. but what she says about lit is no more plausible - or in some cases it would be considerably less plausible - than saying the same about the discipline of history, or economics, or psychology, or for that matter seamstressing, or farming, or transportation, or trade, or statecraft, or religion, or residential construction, or etc etc etc. none of these are the only important thing, or the singularly most important thing, and though we lived for millennia without the novel, it's been a long time since we've gotten by without farming.
taking the thing where it goes after that: we are no more (and, to be fair, no less) the story-telling animal than we are the animal that calculates or emits polemics or navigates or plays games.
as people age, they often get disaffected by their grandbabies' culture and crank up the jeremiads and prophecies of doom, based perhaps on no real acquaintance with the alleged horrors being lamented. don't let that be you. the culture has never not been in a disastrous decline toward the end.
another privilege of age (along with gaining the right and responsibility to judge everyone) is that you've seen many moral panics and apocalyptic rants and can do some inductive reasoning: oh, this one's going to be okish too. television was the end of all things good and decent and artistic. so were comic books, for that matter, rock 'n roll, hip hop etc. we came out of them sucking no more or less than always.