Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Defending Ideas

There are many reasons one might read, and many benefits one might receive from reading. I don't begrudge or besmirch another his or her reasons for reading. I can say quite clearly, though, that my reason for reading remains ideas. When I think of the prose that has stayed with me in life, it is that which has given me ideas about things. Reading and thinking about Fowles' The Magus altered my worldview, helped me to understand the nature of Hazard as a primary factor in human existence (incidentally, in Moby-Dick my most enduring memory, besides the homosexual potential, is of the weave created by necessity, will, and chance). What sticks with me in Dostoevsky are the ideas of the characters (and what makes Dostoevsky masterful, to bastardize Bakhtin a bit, is that the ideas are infused with the characters and we see the impact of ideas on the characters). More than anything else, the philosophical ideas of what I read have the power not only to linger, not only to alter, but to radically shift my general attitude toward life (I don't think it an exaggeration to say that Fowles' ideas on Hazard have changed the way I look at life, day to day and big picture). If this makes me more a critic than an artist, more a philosopher than a romantic, so be it. It doesn't make me a philistine, however.

But this is exactly why I started this blog and invited somebody who clearly has different ideas about literature than me to write for it. I want to discuss (and argue) ideas. The open discussion of ideas is the best way to get at good ideas. The very reason I love to read, listen, watch, and talk is a devotion to ideas and the belief that a life lived for ideas is a life worth living. And so literature with a philosophical usefulness trumps all other reasons for literature (for me).

Link for Today
"On Poetry: School of Verse," by David Orr

Last Comment on the Pope (?)
We make a mistake if we think the Pope speaks for “The West,” for reason, for Christianity as a whole. We make a mistake if we think the Pope’s goals are about democracy and freedom. He doesn’t, and they are not. He speaks for Catholicism, and his goals are for Catholicism.


  1. the reason why i criticized steinbeck for his flat chracters emodied with a socialist intent isn't because i abhor novels of ideas (witness my comments about bellow) its because his novellas are then reduced to a flat socialist message devoid of emotional content (and this doesn't hold for travels with charlie nor for east of eden). the ideas there aren't really ones you can mull and argue. some philosophical literature is like this too. once you've found out 'hell is other people' then there's really nothing else going on. you got the message, it makes sense, there's no greater depth or ambiguity, and the story/characters don't stay with you. its lit with a clear intent. i can't read for just character or just story. i need ideas and depth and terrific prose and characters and story that strikes you... dostoevksy, tolstoy, flaubert, bellow, faulkner, cormac mccarthy etc.

  2. So is your suggestion that a work of literature should contain "emotional content"?