I can't remember a time I haven't read fiction. I learned to read when I was four, mostly so I could finally read that damn fire station book on my own. (No one would read it to me as much I as I wanted them to.) I remember reading it to my grandfather as many times as he would listen.
I just read an essay by Mihaly Czikszenmihalyi about the idea of "flow." MC asserts that when we're flowing, we're in a sort of joyful out-of-timeness. I read fiction for that. I read fiction sitting in a chair by an open window so I can feel and hear the breeze differently.
Have you read Martha Nussbaum? She says we need fiction in order to understand each other. MN suggests fiction enables us to understand each other better than almost anything else - and that sort of understanding of that which is deeply other than me is necessary to my being empathetic and just.
I can find my Nussbaum article that gets to the heart of it for you, if you'd like. I can't remember which book it's in, but there's one that really gets at her love for literature.
Empathy is one of the things I'm talking about in the essay I'm working on -- I haven't read Martha Nussbaum, but I think she's right, that fiction helps develop this in profound ways that we need so much. I'm on a pretty tight deadline with the essay, but, if it's not too much trouble, I'd love to see the Nussbaum article that gets to the heart of it (if it's in a form that makes that possible).
And, even if I don't get to read it before I finish -- I've already been reading all sorts of amazing things that make me all worked up and giddy and wanting to post them all on lj and read them aloud to my friends over the phone instead of writing the thing -- I'm very interested in this, and would love to read it whenever.
Like the idea of flow very much. Maybe I've told you about The City and the Stars -- think that's what it's called -- by a philospher whose name I've forgotten, who talks about every moment having a temporal dimension and also an eternal one -- this makes kind of experiential sense to me, but it's so hard to convey -- what you just said about flow touches it directly for me, and yeah, fiction gets me there.
And, that breeze, those changes. I love to read sprawled on the grass in the sun or shade in a cemetery across the street from me.
Do you need my email? su2aniz (at) hotmail (dot) com
It's the first essay in the book I linked, and it's called "The Literary Imagination". I don't have it in emailable form right now... here are some good quotes, and then I'll try and find it in emailable form.
p. 5-6, she's explaining why novels and not some other kind of writing: "Unlike most historical works, literary works typically invite their readers to pu tthemselves in the place of people of many different kinds and to take on their experiences. In their very mode of address to their imagined reader, they convey the sense that there are links of possibility, at least on a very general level, between the characters and the reader.
...Another way of putting this point is that good literature is disturbing in a way that history and social science writing frequently are not. Because it summons powerful emotions, it disconcerts and puzzles. It inspires distrust of conventional pieties and exacts a frequently painful confrontation with one's owns thoughts and intentions. ...Literary works that promote identification and emotional reaction cut through those self-protective stratagems, requiring us to see and to respond to many things tha tmay be difficult to confront - and they make this process palatable by giving us pleasure in the very act of confrontation."
Oh! That's great! Especially the second paragraph -- so great.
I know that you have a TON to do, don't spend time looking for this for me at the expense of your own work -- and flow -- and all. I can call a couple of local bookstores tomorrow and see if they have the book, and, if not, I can order it for the future.
It inspires distrust of conventional pieties and exacts a frequently painful confrontation with one's own thoughts and intentions..."
It does. I love that so much. And then the pleasure in the very act of confrontation.
This is one of my favorite essays ever. I'm so glad you like it!
I found an online copy, and am just trying to download it. If you have access to academic databases, you can search in the JSTOR database for the title words "literary imagination" and you'll find it right off. In the mean time, my slow connection is slowly downloading, and I'll email you the PDF when it's finally done! :)
I don't have access to academic databases. I think I pretend in my head sometimes that I'm an academic, but no institutional affiliation is the truth. Thank you so much!
p.9-10 FYI, she uses Dickens, Wright, and Forster novels as examples.
"There is one more feature of novel-reading that needs recognition at the outset: the novel's interest in the ordinary. As readers of Hard Times, we visit a schoolroom, a middle-class home, a circus, a working-class home, the office of a manager, the factory in which working people toil, an abandoned mineshaft in which many working people have met their death. Not one of these places would have been judged fit for inclusion in the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles or of Corneille and Racine. ...But in reading Dickens's story, we embrace the ordinary. It is made an object of our keenest interest and sympathy. We visit these places as involved friends, concerned about what is happening in them. ...The novel determinedly introduces its reader to that which is in a way common and close at hand - but which is often, in its significant strangeness, the object of profound ignorance and emotional refusal."
The ordinary! The ordinary! The ordinary! Flannery O'Connor says that fiction is made of dust (and that trying to write good fiction through just, say psychological insights, just doesn't work).
And, yeah, in its significant strangeness. I don't know, dust and marvels, both, the way dust flowers up sometimes into great showers of motes in light.