Hell is perceived as an event or experience of endless suffering from ages, but the modern contemporary literature looks at it as means of recovering or discovering one’s self-hood. A casual stroll through the imaginative visualisation aiming at finding sanity through the corridors of darkness can be a starting point to trigger and bring to life the numbness of our inner selves. Inducing a little bit of chaos in our souls can give birth to self-actualisation.

Inferno by Dante Alighieri, who traversed the nine circles of hell, can be a starting point to look into the visions of hell in literature. Sinners get what they deserved, the lustful are blown forever in tormenting storms, corrupt politicians simmer in bubbling tar and the professional flatterers are bathed in excrement; prey to grief without end. More importantly, it is the self-discovery through a process of getting lost first. “At the midpoint on the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest - for the clear path was lost.”

Aeneid by Virgil talks about the groans of ghosts, the pains of sounding lashes and the dragging of chains. The un-repenting are made to confess their crimes and sent down into a pit, to be wallowed in impotent violence.

The Place of the Damned by Jonathan Swift defines hell by its inhabitants, the damned poets, critics, corrupt senators, damned prostitute slaves and a large number of lawyers and judges. It is a reflection on the fate of the ones committing atrocities in every walk of life.

Paradise Lost by John Milton in the same way talks of woes and the visible darkness.

The artistic narration in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce takes the readers to a new height of repulsion and stench when he writes: “Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse a prey to flames, devoured by the fire of burning brimstone. And then imagine this sickening stench, multiplied a million-fold and a million-fold again.“ On the contrary, Piers Plowman by William Langland personifies peace, mercy and truth, which are overpowering an anxious defeatist Satan.

A shift in modern literature becomes visible when Percy Bysshe Shelley in Peter Bell the Third compares hell with the city like London, Smokey and populous. “All are damned - they breathe an air, thick, infected, joy-dispelling.“ However, the major shift to the reformist aspect of hell comes from Rachel Falconer’s Hell in Contemporary Literature, leading seekers towards the urgent power of truth.

The shift from “fear” to “reformation” leads to the fading of fear of hell, while moving towards a strong belief in a God of love and forgiveness in a world progressing to greater level of knowledge and perfection. Contemporary literature looks at the life on earth, heaven or hell as different dimensions with their own sphere of context, while fluctuating from a state of being consciousness to the unconscious levels. The quest for sanity while floating in the sea of insanity gives a totally different look to our existence and rediscovering the meaning of our lives.

n    The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College                 London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan                 Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight                 Magazine. He has authored two books titled Understanding                     Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.

    Blog: drirfanzafar.com

    Email: drirfanzafar@gmail.com