The Purpose and Uses of Fiction
Posted by honestpoet on June 18, 2008
Majutsu recently made a long post about the futility of fiction (as he understands it), and I disagreed with him insofar as literary fiction goes. (I pretty much agree with him regarding religious fictions, of course, though even they have their uses.) I’ve been involved in writing fiction myself these past few weeks, and in researching potential markets for the story I’ve finished, I came across this excellent article (scroll down to the “Editorial Prelude”). Here’s an excerpt I found particularly germane:
The fact that all human beings have imagination and are at least potentially capable of entering into the life of another person is what makes literature innately moral and ethical. One antidote to the sickeningly self-regarding culture that inundates us, then, is literature, or it should be. Literature opens minds, stimulates the empathic/sympathetic imagination by allowing readers to see the world through other eyes than their own. Just as a workout in a gym strengthens muscles, a workout with a poem or story strengthens the imagination.
As well, I wanted to include an excerpt from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction which highlights another use of fiction:
Toward the close of a novel, the writer brings back — directly or in the form of the characters’ recollections — images, characters, events, and intellectual motifs encountered earlier. Unexpected connections begin to surface; hidden causes become plain; life becomes, however briefly and unstably, organized; the universe reveals itself, if only for the moment, as inexorably moral; the outcome of various characters’ actions is at last manifest; and we see the responsibility of free will.” [emphasis mine]
Thus the novel has its own metaphysic, which to me seems even more necessary now that traditional metaphysics are failing us. The truly artful novel balances the implication of science that we live in a deterministic universe where freedom is an illusion. It is not, and its practice, the practice of our free will to make moral choices, is more necessary than ever. Literary fiction, if embraced for this end, might just be the way out of the moral morass we find ourselves in on this planet where the old ideas, though going out kicking and screaming, are dying.