What Is Fiction for? Literary Humanism Restored

What Is Fiction for? Literary Humanism Restored

What Is Fiction for? Literary Humanism Restored

What Is Fiction for? Literary Humanism Restored

Synopsis

How can literature, which consists of nothing more than the description of imaginary events and situations, offer any insight into the workings of "human reality" or "the human condition"? Can mere words illuminate something that we call "reality"? Bernard Harrison answers these questions in this profoundly original work that seeks to re-enfranchise reality in the realms of art and discourse. In an ambitious account of the relationship between literature and cognition, he seeks to show how literary fiction, by deploying words against a background of imagined circumstances, allows us to focus on the roots, in social practice, of the meanings by which we represent our world and ourselves. Engaging with philosophers and theorists as diverse as Wittgenstein, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Derrida, F. R. Leavis, Cleanth Brooks, and Stanley Fish, and illustrating his ideas through readings of works by Swift, Woolf, Appelfeld, and Dickens, among others, this book presents a systematic defense of humanism in literary studies, and of the study of the Humanities more generally, by a distinguished scholar.

Excerpt

In his introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature (2009), its editor, Richard Eldridge, explaining his intention to “take the ‘and’ in the title seriously,” distinguishes the study of philosophy and literature from that of philosophy in, or of, literature. The philosophy of literature, he suggests, treats “topics such as the definition of literature, fictional objects and fictional worlds, interpretation, emotions about literature, and so forth, as self-standing topics in their own right, to be submitted to the normal standards for the treatment of distinctly philosophical problems.” The problem with this “style of normal philosophical problem solving,” he says, is that it “tends to detract from full attention both to the powers and interest of literature, and to the uneasy affinities between philosophy and literature as practices. It seeks to understand the work of literature too readily against the background of protocols of knowing that were developed principally within the epistemology of the natural sciences, thus all but inevitably casting literature as secondary, derivative, decorative, or deficient.”

Eldridge also disclaims any ambition to contribute to the study of “philosophy in literature,” on the grounds that “literary works are not to be taken as mere instances of philosophical stances that are more articulately and adequately worked out elsewhere, as one might, for example, take Sartre’s Nausea as an illustration of Being and Nothingness. This approach, too, scants both the powers of literature and the engagements and contestations that bind philosophy and literature to one another as forms of attention and disciplines and culture.” Philosophy and litera-

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