Wednesday, October 8th, 2008
Dan Green engages a post by Obooki (?)
Since I, too, cannot think of any particular novel that “has changed my thinking about life,” and since I also don’t read novels “for philosophy, for meaning” and am antipathetic to “philosophizing” in novels (as well to the underlying notion that fiction is a medium for “saying something” in the first place), I want to agree with the further claim that no novelist has ever “contributed anything important to human understanding,” but finally I really can’t.
In the narrow sense of the term “understanding” that Obooki seems to be invoking here–“understanding” as philosophically established knowledge–it is certainly true that fiction has contributed almost nothing to the store of human knowledge.
The engagement has generated interesting comments. But I’m wondering at the suggested framework: it’s one thing to claim that fiction may produce human understanding, another thing to say that fiction may generate knowledge (something unknown or unconsidered as related, for example). The distinction matters. Formative knowledge, such as an historical fact, can be conveyed through a fiction, and some fictions may discover a new aesthetic.
But the question of knowledge may lead to an expectation of it. We could ask a different question: a reader may discover an interesting relationship in a fiction or poem. A fiction may uncover something hidden. “Life-changing” is a pretty high and complicated standard. Isn’t the judge in McCarthy’s novel somewhat of a contribution? I admit that the kind of contribution can be an interesting question to pursue.