Sunday, August 19, 2007

Philosophy and the Novel

Today, Descartes would probably be a novelist; Pascal certainly. A genre becomes universal when it seduces minds which have no reason to embrace it. But, ironically, it is just such minds that are sapping the novel from within: they introduce problems heterogeneous to its nature, diversify it, pervert and overburden it until they make its architecture crack. If the future of the novel is not close to your heart, it should please you to see a philosopher writing one. Whenever philosophers insinuate themselves into Letters, it is to exploit their confusion or to precipitate their collapse.
EM Cioran in The Temptation to Exist (1956).
To write in ignorance of the philosophical horizon - or refusing to acknowledge the punctuation, the groupings and separations determined by the words that mark this horizon - is necessarily to write with facile complacency (the literature of elegance and good taste).
Blanchot in The Writing of the Disaster (1980).

It is perhaps instructive that one of our most elegant writer of novels displaying the utmost good taste should concern himself with Science writing - a philosophy without doubt in itself. Where, then, can we find the true philosophical horizon?


  1. Anonymous9:30 pm

    Like you Ian McEwan is a writer I detest. His defense of The Selfish Gene does not surprise me. It is one of the most stupid books I have ever read. He mentions another book, which I also cannot stand. The Language Instinct. The Language Instinct! Even the title makes you want to vomit.

    Writers like Ian McEwan exist to remind us what literature is by the very fact that they are not it.

  2. In defence of McEwan, the one and a half pages of the one book of his I have explored was one of the highlights of my literary life. A masterpiece even if shit.

  3. Anonymous8:20 pm

    scary. My doctor hubbie whom I consult on things scientific would likely say that waxing poetic on scientific discoveries or theories are quite beside the point and perhaps even a bit suspicious. Sounds like someone has an agenda.


  4. I'm not sure it's an agenda Meg so much as a loss of confidence; novelists seeking authority for fiction.

    And Will, I wouldn't be so kind. And Pinker has form:

  5. Anonymous8:42 pm

    Too bad about the loss of confidence.


  6. Anonymous9:06 pm

    ooo. I didn't mean any of the people who left comments on this blog had an agenda. Did it sound like I was saying that? If it sounds like I was saying that, please post this Steve with my apologies. I'm a nice person, really. No, McEwan's article sounded a bit pandering, is all, but I should probably be nicer to him too. What do I know.

  7. It didn't sound like that Meg. It sounded like you suspected McEwan has an agenda.

  8. This whole argument is stupid. Dostoyevski was every bit the philosopher that Kant was; Neitzsche was as much a novelist as Camus. Loving the form of "novel" is absurd, since those who fear its decline are really just afraid of the death of a western proccupation with all things homogeneous and domestic. Long fiction is not going away, but mediocre writers will find themselves less welcome as we stop caring about the purity of forms.

  9. What argument and who is having it?

  10. I'm a little late here, but I'm confused by Will's comments. How exactly is The Selfish Gene a stupid book? Or even The Language Instinct? I have a variety of problems with Dawkins and Pinker both (as well as McEwan), but these books are far from stupid, especially The Selfish Gene. Is it just science writing? The purported certainty of it?

  11. I've something of an artistic homage to one of the afore-mentioned intellectual behemoths & said behemoth's philosophical perspicacity here which might prove rewarding to the discerning reader.



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