Sunday, May 22, 2005

Fiction : straight or on the rocks?

A cursory root in the bloglitts landed me with an interesting question, which I can answer for myself: Are you satisfied with good literature per se (in and of itself) or do you use it as a vehicle for other interests? The simplest way to explain it is to refer to a recent post from Proust Reading Group, where a reading involving barometers led to a foray into the use and attitudes to barometers in Victorian times, invention, use before and and since: a subject which rivets me, as does the use of altimeters by the great explorers we all know and love or hate, such as Doughty, whose classic Arabia Deserta I could not finish. Anyone read Richard Trench's little Arabian Travellers?

I like Proust very much, but will never finish reading him. I have never started at the beginning, but use commentaries, criticism and sociology of literature as a starting point to dip into sections for specific purposes. Rather than a life-time of 'straight reading' - with the obligatory/ necessary stops and starts - Proust will for me be be a tool, a resource, an intermittent pleasure. I do not feel guilty or embarassed to use literature as a detective or forensic pathologist might use anyone or anything to hand to get into the mind of the person he is trying to catch.


Empathy (including and especially in literature), my previous post show, is a preoccupation. I cannot find essays arguing for the study of empathy (as a science if you will) by the budding writer, but what I have garnered on the subject so far shows much of the research about empathy, much in effect reviews plus some added ideas masquerading as research, could be useful in learning how to place one character against another in a realistic manner. What!, you say, who needs 'scientific' explanations: emapathy is part of being human. True, but it is not a thing you think of very often in a detailed way. No! It is just part of what happens when people interact! Well, yes and no. There's a lot more to it than that. There's to start with defining exactly what it means to start with.

The thought about what emapthy amounts to answers many of the questions about how people respond (or not) to each other in life or art. A cursory reading of Stephen Potter's Lifesmanship or any other of his books on oneupmanship, would be a good way in for those who can't bear the thought of taking the science route to a better understanding of they might see as the preserve of creative writing, art, music, painting.


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