I don’t distrust the artist as artist at all. I distrust people, including artists, who make pretentious claims for literature as a source of knowledge. This was the half of Plato’s complaint against the poets which I accept. I see no reason to regard literature as a superior source of truth, or even as a reliable source of truth at all. Going to it is dangerous because it provides a sense of verification (a feeling) without the fact of verification ( the validating process). Plato was simply too exclusive about his values. He took knowledge to be the supreme good. Consequently he had to banish the poets (for the most part). The appeal to literature as a source of truth is pernicious. Truth suffers, but more than that, literature suffers. It is taken to be an undisciplined and sophistic sociology, psychology, metaphysics, ethics, etc., etc.William H. Gass Well, that might be true if you accept, firstly, that knowledge and truth are synonymous terms; and secoondly that they are absolutes, capable of representing a single, all-encompassing iteration of actuality. But they aren't, and they aren't.
Of course literature can be a source of knowledge. It may even be a source of truth, although that may be more problematic. But knowledge? Of course. Moby-Dick teaches us of vanity. Bartleby the Scrivener of conformity. Crime and Punishment of guilt. Candide of gullibility. Blood Meridian of evil. What are those lessons, if not the imparting of knowledge?
Gass then presents a baffling leap of logic to assert that looking for truth in literature is pernicious and that, as a result, literature somehow suffers. That simply does not bear scrutiny. It's meaningless. But it allows him to present, as a fait accompli, the notion that reading literature for understanding of the human condition is akin to sophistry and pseudo-science. So, let's return to Captain Ahab, or his close companion Kurtz. What textbook could illustrate the dangers of vanity more profoundly than Moby-Dick or Heart of Darkness? What textbook could explain the essence as well as the actuality in the way those novels do? It's impossible to conceive.