Break my heart into pieces, please
Novelists and poets, those interpreters of our troubled experience of the world, are often drawn to philosophical systems, theories of history, mythologies. Long works, in particular, require considerable formal organization, and so Dante relies on Aquinas and Catholic theology to structure his vision of the afterlife, just as Victor Hugo and Tolstoy embed powerful discourses about history in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and War and Peace. Similarly, Yeats’s late poetry turns on the detailed cosmology he elaborates in A Vision while Robert Graves’s best love poems celebrate the somber mythos of The White Goddess: “There is one story and one story only.” Sometimes the writers truly believe in these various systems, sometimes the systems merely serve as useful architectural blueprints to produce original and coherent works of art. Of course, what matters most is that the resulting novel or poem, through its use of such theoretical struts and joists, can somehow do an even better job than usual of, say, breaking our hearts.