Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Novel & Philosophy

I don't really agree with this dismissal of philosophical novel, much less with the idea that a novel can't change your thinking about life and the world. I wonder, if that is the case, why take the novel seriously at all?

Later in the post he mentions (quoting John Dewey) that, "our encounter with art can be the most alert and engaged of human experiences. In our free perception of the aesthetic ... we reach a level of pure experience, and a degree of self-awareness of experience as experience, unavailable in most other human endeavors." This is a great way of of describing the experience of reading (or any aesthetic engagement) but why shouldn't we see this self-aware experiences as adding to our knowledge or questioning whatever knowledge of the self and the world we already had before we started reading, and taking it further, why shouldn't we let this knowledge change our lives?

As one of the comments there also mentions, taking Dostoevsky as an example weakens the argument. Dostoevsky wasn't just emobodying extant ideas in plots, characters and incidents, he was actively thinking, questioning and critiquing the dominant intellectual culture of his times (the whole project of modernity). Alongwith Kierkegaard and Nietzsche he is an early existentialist philosopher, someone who also influenced the popular French existentialist thinkers of the 20th century.

This is not just embodying ideas in plots and characters, it is more about finding a grounding for ideas which would seem abstract, academic and irrelevant otherwise. This is what a philosophical novel achieves. We are surrounded by theories and facts and ideas but only in a novel can we find a personal stake in those ideas (without necessarily subjectivizing them). Reading in that sense becomes a process of making those facts and theories "one's own" and "authentic". (Reading Heidegger has been messing up with my mind recently.) I actually also like philosophers or thinkers who write as if they had a personal stake in whatever they are writing and thinking.

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