The literature we read is, on the surface, about a variety of different things but beneath the handful of similar plots and narratives that are altered only by different characters and places there are three things which every writer (I’m speaking primarily of fiction and poetry here) writes about, and which are fundamental to what it means to be human: God, sex, and death.
Human beings are burdened by the need, the hunger, for sexual intimacy and intercourse. They are also burdened by the question of where did all of this, all of Creation, including themselves and the human race, come from, and they are weighed down by the fear of death, the terror of not knowing what happens to the self or soul (if they believe in such a thing) after death, and they fear the pain and agony of dying itself.
Human beings are human, and that is the most important thing any writer can and should write about: answering the question “What does it mean to be human?” by exploring human nature in the characters they create and the plots they involve them in. This question is, very generally and somewhat vaguely, answered by my belief in the writer’s triangle of God, sex, and death. Focusing on this trinity helps human beings to comprehend themselves in the face of these realities that have no ultimate resolution.
To be human means to have deep needs of an animalistic but also of a relational nature: we hunger for sex to temporarily satisfy our physical, sexual desires that go beneath the conscious level of our being, but we also crave physical intimacy wherein there is an emotional connection which sex fulfills when we are not actively seeking satisfaction for our lustful desires. This emotional connection forges love, which can be bound up with the matter of sex in the writer’s triangle. The two can be conceived and written of separately as distinct entities but when desire becomes love it is hard to tell where the sex begins (and if it is merely sex) and the love ends. For what is love without desire? And what is love without that blind, stupid devotion to the beloved that makes people look away at PDAs or laugh out loud because that devotion to another person seems so senseless but is without question so beautiful and wipes out the ego without a second thought? Also: Why do we need sex? Do we even need it? Can there be fulfillment in a life of celibacy?
As for death, there can be no question that there seems to be no permanent resolution to the fear that is inherent in our very beings toward it. Death often makes life absurd and meaningless to those who do not believe in God or an afterlife. But the concept of death is also a beautiful thing, a force of salvation in itself, that is a balm to the monkey mind of consciousness and the lost, miserable soul that cannot find a moment’s rest or peace in this life, on this side of the Great Divide. For why would anyone want to live an eternal human existence when life is so full of suffering, and when the beautiful, just as much as the suffering, is transient, but seems to be even more fleeting than the pain?
The wanderer forced to live an eternal life on earth is a literary Gothic and Romantic figure that emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (based on the biblical Cain and Wandering Jew figures) and teaches us that life becomes empty and unhappy because such a curse alienates you not only from society but also from the family and friends you have grown up with because they will die and leave you with a bitter, lasting loneliness that increases as the generations are born and pass away while you cannot. So death may be feared, but ultimately it should not be because it redeems us from suffering.
Next we have God: Does “God” exist or not? Does the “God” that may exist more closely resemble the God of Eastern philosophical thought or of Western religion? We will never know the answers to these questions. The question is “Are we better off not knowing, or not believing?” These are open-ended questions that writers and great works of literature have engaged with, and each writer and their work offers explorations of these questions and offer, or not, their own perspectives and answers to these questions, as much as they can be answered.
What is at the bottom of this lengthy post is that these are the three points on the triangle that all writers must continually face and work with because they are integral to what it means to be human. And as each of these topics stands at the triangle’s angles they are connected to the other two by the solid line that joins and leads one into the other, in both directions, therefore all three are intertwined. Thus, resolving the question of the meaning of human nature and existence, discovering all the details and sorting them out, is an impossibility because these three ideas are bound up one in the other in a Gordian knot that will never be unraveled. But the true writer knows this and is yet carried eternally forward by the impulse to try and unravel the thorny knot of what it means to be human.