27.1.11

Can Literature be Philosophical?

James Ryerson on the philosophical novel
David Foster Wallace
In a recent article in The New York Times, James Ryerson asks an age-old question: can literature be philosophical? Recalling examples from Iris Murdoch to David Foster Wallace, Ryerson discusses how we might define the philosophical novel, and explores the gulf that seems to exist between the two disciplines:
Can a novelist write philosophically? Even those novelists most commonly deemed “philosophical” have sometimes answered with an emphatic no. Iris Murdoch, the longtime Oxford philosopher and author of some two dozen novels treating highbrow themes like consciousness and morality, argued that philosophy and literature were contrary pursuits. Philosophy calls on the analytical mind to solve conceptual problems in an “austere, unselfish, candid” prose, she said in a BBC interview broadcast in 1978, while literature looks to the imagination to show us something “mysterious, ambiguous, particular” about the world. Any appearance of philosophical ideas in her own novels was an inconsequential reflection of what she happened to know. “If I knew about sailing ships I would put in sailing ships,” she said. “And in a way, as a novelist, I would rather know about sailing ships than about philosophy.” [Read more]

Also at A Piece of Monologue