Kenneth Burke described literature as “equipment for living”: “A work like Madame Bovary,” he wrote, “is the strategic naming of a situation. It singles out a pattern of experience that is sufficiently representative of our social structure, that recurs sufficiently often mutis mutandis, for people to ‘need a word for it’ and to adopt an attitude toward it. Each work of art is the addition of a word to an informal dictionary.”
My mother once said she felt bad about not giving my siblings and me a religious upbringing–not because she feared for our souls, but because she worried we’d miss out on all the biblical references and allusions woven through Western culture.
You needn’t have worried, Mom. There’s my equipment for living, there’s my vast Talmudic dictionary of allusions and parables for apprehending and articulating the world. The first episode of The Simpsons aired twenty years ago today.
(*) Just to reiterate: The worst fate Mom could imagine for her heathen kids was not hellfire and damnation, but not getting all the references. I am my mother’s son.