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Reflections of a working writer and reader



How not to think for ourselves

The Other Mouths site asked the question: What should fiction do? The following is only part of one of the answers:

. . . the narratives generated and sustained by the American political system, entertainment industry, and academic trade have taught us over the last half century how not to think for ourselves. Essentially, those narratives shun complexity and challenge; avoid texts that demand attentive, self-conscious, and self-critical reading; and embrace The Middle Mind’s thoughtless impulse toward the status quo. In a phrase, what we are left with is the death or at least the dying of what I think of as the Difficult Imagination. What writers can do is attempt to revive that Difficult Imagination by exploring various strategies that call attention to, reflect upon, and disrupt the assumptions behind conventional narratives, thereby challenging the dominant cultures that would like to see such narratives told and retold until they begin to pass for truths about the human condition. “Our satisfaction with the completeness of plot,” Fredric Jameson once noted, is “a kind of satisfaction with society as well,” and I would add much the same is the case with our satisfaction with undemanding style, character, subject matter, and so forth.

Do take the time to look at some of the other answers to this important question.

I was led to this post from Condalmo.

5 Responses to “How not to think for ourselves”

  1. Paul says:

    What should fiction do? – Entertain? Enthral? Divert? Illuminate? Make us think in different ways? Fire our imaginations? Transport us to different worlds? Give us a different perspective on our own world? Teach us that everything is not always as it seems? Remind us that actions have consequences, and that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.
    Have the reader wanting the book never to end.

    jb says: All of that, Paul. Plus I want to find myself in there, under and behind all of the facades that I have created to keep myself concealed.

  2. Jerry Prager says:

    Maybe it’s a tautology to say that fiction only does what writers to do with it, but there’s some kind of lurking utilitarian suggestion that it should do something on its own, as if it’s some kind of couch potato otherwise.
    Also, we live in a descriptive age, in which the novel has to compete with people’s needs for the facts they get from non-fiction.
    In the end fiction writers should do what they have always done, tell stories about people and ideas in circumstances that compel the reader to grapple with insights they didn’t have before.
    I’m personally not that interested in reading texts designed to challenge my ability to read by making me face a lot of writing experiments as I’m some kind of lab rat. In some cases such writing is simply a cover-up for a lack of insight. And yet, there is always a need for an avantgarde to dissociate themselves from the associative norms and who am I to begrudge such writers their vision quests ?
    In the end, writing is an act of communication. And like all communication systems, there is a receptive and a transmitive relay system involved, in which insights or ideas either connect to a reader and thus trigger more transmitive-receptive processes inside and outside of the reader to others, or the ideas and insights don’t connect, and the information process is terminated.
    In great fiction the process doesn’t seem to end and goes on for centuries.

    jb says: I just ate too many hot-cross-buns. I want to say that we should always expect a miracle. That’s what I’m looking for every time I begin a new book. I turn over the first few pages, come to the part where it says Chapter One, and then my heart begins to beat faster. Will this be it? Am I, at this point, entering a world that has been, hitherto, beyond my imagination?
    Is this what they meant when they told me about the Genie in the lamp?
    I don’t mind being disappointed, because there is often, not always, but often enough, something there to keep me alive to the expectation.
    And who knows, one day . . .

  3. bloglily says:

    I just MADE too many hot cross buns and forced everyone around me to eat them and love them. Currants, spices, a little glaze, and then toasted the next day with butter. What could be nicer?

    And I rather liked this answer: “Writing should share a hot shower with you, towel you off with a high thread count, and then retreat downstairs to powder the sugar on your pancakes.

    But before all that, writing should throw a psychotic fit in front of you because you haven’t been paying enough attention to it lately. ”

    jb says: There are some good and thoughtful answers there. We have two stale hot-cross-buns left over for the birds.

  4. Jerry Prager says:

    one a penny two a penny…

    jb says: Entering into the spirit of things, Jerry.

  5. Ian Jones says:

    From the discussion, I think we can see that fiction does largely what the reader wants it to do. Of course, authorial intent is inherent in all writing, but a significant degree of individual interpretation contributes to what we take from a text. It’s amazing how disparate reader reactions to the same novel can be, a fact that just goes to show the extent to which an individual shapes their own reading. A certain degree of this must be subconscious; when reading, we are not always aware of exactly where our focus lies or for what meaning or purpose we are reading. It’s definitely interesting to consider the degree of control an author may exert on their reader though.