04 May 2008

Facets: Ways of looking at fiction

[D]iscursive language, say in novel writing, is artistically identified as description, which is what enables fiction to be convincing: we acquiesce in the fiction that we are being given facts. So that the difference between factual and fictive description is not that the former is true and the latter false—for something may after all be meant as factual and be false without thereby being elevated to the status of fiction, and fictional prose may in literal fact be true—but in the fact that the former is artistically identified as description and the latter literally identified as that. Arthur Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace p. 127
...the drive is curiosity and the aim enlightenment. Use of symbols beyond immediate need is for the sake of understanding, not practice; what compels is the urge to konw, what delights is discovery, and communication is secondary to the apprehension and formulation of what is to be communicated....Symbolization, then, is to be judged fundamentally by how well it serves the cognitive purpose: by the delicacy of its discriminations and the aptness of its allusions; by the way it works in grasping, exploring, and informing the world; by how it analyzes, sorts, orders, and organizes; by how it participates in the making, manipulation, retention, and transformation of knowledge....Not only do we discover the world through our symbols but we understand and reappraise our symbols progressively in the light of our growing experience. ...

The difference between art and science is not that between feeling and fact, intuition and inference, delight and deliberation, synthesis and analysis, sensation and cerebration, concreteness and abstraction, passion and action, mediacy and immediacy, or truth and beauty, but rather a difference in domination of certain specific characteristics of symbols. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art pp. 258, 260, 264
The language of fiction functions in two ways, therefore. In one, used appropriately, the sentences of a fiction "body forth" a particular imaginary world—producing Jehoshaphat [from Lagerkvist's, The Dwarf], who is referred to, as well as the dwarf, who makes reference to him; in another, the "voice" of the dwarf, collapsed into the "voice" of the fiction (since the story is told in the first person), is imagined to refer to Jehoshaphat. Hence, the referring use of language occurs in fiction only insofar as the world of the fiction is already assumed to exist; but it is then, precisely, that the distinction between fiction and reality is no longer critical. Joseph Margolis, Art & Philosophy
How then to posit the value of a text? How establish a basic typology of texts? The primary evaluation of all texts can come neither from science, for science does not evaluate, nor from ideology, for the ideological value of a text (moral, aesthetic, political, alethiological) is a value of representation, not of production (ideology "reflects," it does not do work). Our evaluation can be linked only to a practice, and this practice is that of writing....the goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text. Roland Barthes, S/Z pp. 3-4
[T]he philosophical analysis of fiction has scarcely taken its first steps, Philosophers continue to interpret novels as if they were philosophies themselves, platforms to speak from, middens from which may be scratched important messages for mankind; they have predictably looked for content, not form; they have regarded fictions as ways of viewing reality and not as additions to it. There are many ways of refusing experience. This is one of them.

So little is known of the power of the gods in the worlds of fiction, or of the form of cause, or of the nature of soul, or of the influence of evil, or of the essence of good. No distinction is presently made between laws and rules of inference and conventions of embodiment, or their kinds. The role of chance or of assumption, the recreative power of the skillful reader, the mastery of the sense of internal life, the forms of space and time: how much is known of these? ... No search is made for first principles, none for rules, and infact all capacity for thought in the face of fiction is so regularly abandoned as to reduce it to another form of passive and mechanical amusement. The novelist has, by this ineptitude, been driven out of healthy contact with his audience, and the supreme values of fiction sentimentalized. William Gass, "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction," in Fiction and the Figures of Life, pp. 25-26
In the novel, the voice that speaks the first sentence, then the second, and so onward—call it the voice of the narrator—has, to begin with, no authority at all. Authority must be earned; on the novelist author lies the onus to build up, out of nothing, such authority. J.M. Coetzee, "On Authority in Fiction," Diary of a Bad Year p. 149
Literature is invention. Fiction is fiction. To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth. Every great writer is a great deceiver...There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer....

It seems to me that a good formula to test the quality of a novel is, in the long run, a merging of the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle even though we must keep a little aloof, a little detached when reading. Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass. Vladimir Nabokov, "Good Readers and Good Writers," in Lectures on Literature pp. 5-6.
"Thinking, analyzing, inventing (he also wrote me) are not anomalous acts; they are the normal respiration of the intelligence. To glorify the occasional performance of that function, to hoard ancient and alien thoughts, to recall with incredulous stupor that the doctor universalis thought, is to confess our laziness or our barbarity. Every man should be capable of all ideas and I understand that in the future this will be the case." Jorge Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"
Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit. F. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: First Part.

1 comment:

J said...

Shouldn't we be wary of the """philosophy should do this; literature should do that""" sort of polemics? Methinx yes, tho' the Valvettes have cornered the blog-market on that sort of frat-boy polemics. A few chi chi belle-lettrists and wannabe-analytical philosophers sort of hash it out endlessly, while missing one central point: what sort of philosophy, and what sort of Lit?

Personally I'd be happy if the Miss Manners/Victoriana school of Lit was ended, pronto, the texts (what is it, Mill on the Gloss, Wuthering Shrikes, Miss Dykeoway, etc.) tossed on bonfires, and the schoolmarmies taken out to the buttes for a bit of puffin-eatin', as the scootertramps say.

Joe Conrad or Melville, alright, with reservations. Some noir, or sci-fi, but that doesn't fly at Uni. Even 60s freaks like Kesey (Cuckoo's nest still a powerful book, however trite some in Uni-land might hold it) or Vonnegut. Schack--speare, not so sure. Maybe puffin-material as well. Then some of us are not convinced that Kant's jargon-ridden 1st critique should be like considered a key text of Western civ. either.

The problem is language--and in a sense connotation vs denoation. While someone like Conrad--or LF Celine-- certainly evokes powerful emotions, and causes one to contemplate history, and perhaps time itself, the connotations are still rather vague. Finishing say Heart of D. do we sympathize with Kurtz, whoever that really represents? What is the proper response to a artifice? It's not real, tho' it may have historical relevance.