Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Challenges of Philosophical Fiction

(Thanks to Dick Fewkes for the link.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/books/review/Ryerson-t.html?_r=1&ref=review

8 comments:

  1. Isn't the philosophical novel just the difference between the good novels and the great ones? I agree that sometimes the line of intellectual thought is not quite so straight forward, but I would think uncovering it is most of the fun! Personally, I don't like literature (in an artistic sense) that means what it says, then I feel bored and cheated.
    Perhaps in this day and age, however, people are too impatient to give a story a moment of thought and pursue the underlying issues, instead we just want it spelled out for us... I hope that is just a phase in human society, like silly baroque, and will pass again.

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  2. I don't know if I would want to say that literature is something that doesn't mean what it says, though I agree that a novel or play that is too literal quickly becomes tedious. Rather, I'm inclined to think that (good/great) literature says what it means very forcefully, but does so subtly and in ways that surprise or sneak up on you. What makes this a good thing to do is not just its entertainment value, but rather that in saying something (or exploring an issue) with this kind of indirection it succeeds in saying what it means in a manner that the reader doesn't just hear, but also experiences (in some vicarious but nonetheless potent way).

    I think there's a lesson here for writers of philosophy as well -- not a license to write unclearly, but rather a duty to write clearly with enough grace and passion that the reader feels the force of the reasoning on an emotional as well as an intellectual level.

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  3. That was Ryerson's most potent point. It follows nicely from the assumption that effective education/learning often presuppoes a kind of cognitive-affective balance.

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  4. Yes. A dynamic balance, as in a dialectic where one moves repeatedly and fluidly between the cognitive and affective elements of a subject.

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  5. Since the two (always?) co-mingle as we learn, does that demand a corresponding methodology for teaching? Or must we simply approach teaching fully informed of the potential barriers to receptivity ingredient in others' cognitive-affective status?

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  6. I would expect being fully informed of the fact would, ipso facto, breed methods sensitive to it, whether those methods are overtly (cognitively) articulated, or merely intuitively (affectively) absorbed and applied.

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