I hope to answer this from the perspective of the reader, as this is where almost 100% of my experience of writing has come from.
For me the truest form of literature or writing (or any form of communication for that matter, whether verbal, musical, or whatever – even touch) can be described in analogy to the game of tetris. Confused..? Bear with me.
I begin with the disclaimer that I don’t think all forms of writing, do or should even aim to do, that which I describe below. Though writing which has the greatest impact, on me at least, does do the following. Also I do not claim that writing which doesn’t do the following is unimportant or rubbish, but that it has less impact, and is perhaps less useful to the reader psychically. At least in my opinion.
Sorry reader for such a boring, yet necessary, preamble. Imagine starting a game of Tetris half way through, its all a mess. Blocks everywhere, gaps everywhere, everything is a complete and utter mess. This is the default position a reader finds themselves in when beginning to read. The reader is a bag full of mental knowledge, absolutely bloated with stupid, and useless ideals and philosophies. Systems of thought that are so detrimental to his or her being, a state of utter confusion arises. Maybe this may seem a little exaggerated to you (though it doesn’t to me), and if so, lets at least agree that we arrive with a bag full of preconceptions and usually harmless prejudices.
What any medium that transmits knowledge (T.V., newspapers, fiction and so on) does to an individual is add more knowledge, synonymous to more blocks in a game of Tetris. Even when you completely disagree or can’t relate to what is being communicated, at the bare minimum you have gained the knowledge it was complete garbage. “I won’t ever read that rubbish again”. When you digest information, never make the mistake to think that nothing was gained, no effect has been made. There is always an effect, in some way or another.
What I deem great literature, does essentially the same, but has a slight difference. Naturally, and unavoidably, more blocks of knowledge are added, but this time the person playing the game of Tetris (the author), knows how to play. More blocks of knowledge are added, but tactfully added, in such a way, that in a moment or two, complete lines of previous blocks of knowledge will be completely erased. I know as a matter of fact everyone has read something, watched a film, happened upon a scenic view, had some sort of experience, and come away feeling lighter, less heavy with knowledge, and more rich in real experience. In the moment of knowledge being deleted, a space was created, you were exposed in such a way, that you could be touched by the world around you. In my opinion that kind of knowledge is so so rare, especially in the form of words.
Sometimes, you may even happen upon a writer, who doesn’t just delete a few lines of previous knowledge and experience, but tears right through it all. Their attitude something like, ‘I’m not going to play according to the rules of Tetris, and delete a line at a time. But if you stay with me, really engage with what I’m saying, I’m going to bulldoze through all your ideals, and show you your unadulterated self.’
I felt like this recently, completely uprooted and struggling to find a centre to cling onto. I also felt momentarily alive.