Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Philosophical Fiction

I was thinking today about what I would put on a list of 'Ten Books of Fiction that All Philosophy Majors Should Read', probably because I am currently reading Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion. Here's the list I came up with, at least on a short amount of thought. I confined myself to highly readable works of potentially wide appeal that directly reference or clearly allude to obvious philosophical matters; and obviously, I have to have read it or re-read it recently enough to vouch personally for its meeting these criteria -- a reason why, for instance, an obvious candidate like Camus's The Stranger is not on the list, since I haven't read it since undergrad.

1. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces. Structured by Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, the comic novel follows Ignatius J. Reilly, a quixotic lover of medieval philosophy -- at least a version of it that he has developed in his head -- who finds himself out of sorts with the modern world, or, as he would say, who finds the modern world out of sorts with theology and geometry.

2. Charles Williams, The Place of the Lion. Two students of philosophy find their world crashing in when representations of Platonic Ideas break out of their own realm and into ours.

3. Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. Most of Austen's work could count, but this one has some of her most explicit interactions with picturesque theory and Romantic philosophy.

4. Jean Paul Sartre, Nausea. A former adventurer estranged from the world undergoes an existential crisis experienced as a form of nausea.

5. Ayn Rand, Anthem. I always get push-back on Rand from academics, particularly from people trying to convince themselves that she is a horrible novelist, rather than a merely idiosyncratic one, on the apparent belief that it follows from her political views; but every philosophy major should in fact read this work in order to see what the Allegory of the Cave looks like when turned upside down.

6. China Mieville, Embassytown. Mieville's broadly leftist reworking of the Myth of Theuth through the lens of colonial exploitation ends up touching on a very wide variety of philosophical topics.

7. Neal Stephenson, Anathem. Someone once described the central plot point of this exploration of the nature of inquiry and thought as "weaponized Platonic metaphysics".

8. Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose. A mystery story turning entirely on semiotics, this work touches on an astonishing array of topics from medieval, and occasionally modern, philosophy.

9. Edwin Abbott Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. More than merely a mathematical lark, Abbott's little book addresses questions of epistemology.

10. William Golding, Lord of the Flies. Layers of interlocking allegory explore the philosophical foundations of society.

What would you put on the list?

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