One of my favourite blogs, where I can always find something fascinating, thought-provoking – is that of Norman Geras. (linked on the right – if you don’t know this one, go and see... it’s the best). Earlier this week, he drew our attention to a fascinating question. The relationship, if any, between philosophy and the novel - let's extend that here to fiction in general, shall we?.
A précis then, here – Gera’s article is much better.
James Ryerson, writing here, in the New York Times,
raises the question, “Can a novelist write philosophically?’ and quotes Iris Murdoch as saying absolutely not. In her view,
philosophy and literature were contrary pursuits. Philosophy calls on the analytical mind to solve conceptual problems in an “austere, unselfish, candid” prose, she said in a BBC interview broadcast in 1978, while literature looks to the imagination to show us something “mysterious, ambiguous, particular” about the world. Any appearance of philosophical ideas in her own novels was an inconsequential reflection of what she happened to know.
I have to say, this fascinates me, and I’m not sure what to think. Here are eminently clever people arguing that fiction and philosophy are polar opposites. The more I do think about it, I come to the conclusion that someone’s wrong.
What is philosophy? I guess we can trust Wikipedia here: "Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language."
Couldn’t it be argued that if a novel or indeed any fiction, does not touch on issues connected with existence (or otherwise), knowledge (or otherwise), values, reason, mind and language – it’s fairly inconsequential? And actually, even ‘inconsequential’ reads, what are they dealing with if not one of these at some level?
Maybe the issue is one of ‘study’? That philosophers seek to give us the answers themselves. Whereas creators of good fiction seek to open our minds to possibilities we’ve not thought of perhaps, and draw us into the debate?
And anyway – there is an argument that says (re: the Murdoch quote above) that fiction written in unselfish, candid prose works better in many ways than deliberate obfuscation.
Edited to add: Thanks Tim Love for this link, to an article today (oddly..) in Times Higher Ed Supp, Here.. Fictive Narrative Philosophy... well, hey chaps,, isnt that what strong lit. writers have been doing for ever...?
To quote:"Fiction that only imitates nature or seeks to provide entertainment without making a claim about facts or values in the world is not fictive narrative philosophy. It is just a story."