Saturday January 22nd, 2011

Swinging Wildly Around

Friend to this site James Ryerson (more about another project of his soon) has an essay in the New York Times about philosophical novels, and whether philosophy and fiction usefully overlap: “Both disciplines seek to ask big questions, to locate and describe deeper truths, to shape some kind of order from the muddle of the world. But are they competitors — the imaginative intellect pitted against the logical mind — or teammates, tackling the same problems from different angles?”

“It says something about philosophy,” Ryerson writes, “that two of its greatest practitioners, Aristotle and Kant, were pretty terrible writers.” There are a lot of opinions and characters in a relatively short piece. The philosopher Jerry Fodor says that William James didn’t write well, which makes me wonder more about Fodor’s reading abilities. And then there’s philosophically trained William H. Gass talking about his novels: “I don’t pretend to be treating issues in any philosophical sense. I am happy to be aware of how complicated, and how far from handling certain things properly I am, when I am swinging so wildly around.”