Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Literary Theory ~ Is It Worth Anything?

I’ve been having a certain book thrust into my awareness repeatedly, from many directions, lately.

The latest appearance was in an article about literary theory—oh, my, fiction can teach us enduring truths? Really??

In a post I wrote back in March, World Crises And Fiction Writers ~ Can They Help Humanity?, I posed a number of questions. Here are a few of them:

* Is fiction a proper tool for purposely proposing solutions to world crises?

* Does it go against some “law” of creativity to ask writers to make their fiction conform to some response to world conditions?

* What is the role in society of the fiction writer?

So, this last thrusting of a certain book into my awareness happened in the New York Times Opinion piece, ‘Quixote,’ Colbert and the Reality of Fiction, by William Egginton.

In response to an argument that “naturalism”, the theory that science is the only way to real truth, is a better guide to life than literary theory, he said:

“As a literary theorist, I suppose I could take umbrage at the claim that my own discipline, while fun, doesn’t rise to the level of knowledge. But what I’d actually like to argue goes a little further. Not only can literary theory (along with art criticism, sociology, and yes, non-naturalistic philosophy) produce knowledge of an important and even fundamental nature, but fiction itself, so breezily dismissed in Professor Rosenberg’s assertions, has played a profound role in creating the very idea of reality that naturalism seeks to describe.”

I do recommend you read the full article

It does require more than average reading concentration but it’s not rocket science :-)

What was the book that kept thrusting itself at me—the one I now have two copies of on my computer’s desktop?

The book that I really want to read because of the previous glowing recommendations and this most recent use as an example of literature that informs us about truths?

The one I’m having extreme arguments planning sessions with myself about; like where I’ll find the time to read it?

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

William Egginton says, in that NY Times article, “…Cervantes created the world’s first bestseller, a novel that, in the words of the great critic Harold Bloom, ‘contains within itself all the novels that have followed in its sublime wake’.”

He even goes further and says:

“…in writing those volumes Cervantes did something even more profound: he crystallized in prose a confluence of changes in how people in early modern Europe understood themselves and the world around them. What he passed down to those who would write in his wake, then, was not merely a new genre but an implicit worldview that would infiltrate every aspect of social life: fiction.”

Now, to make  time to read it………
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4 responses to “Literary Theory ~ Is It Worth Anything?

  1. Katie Miller October 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Don Quixote would probably be my absolute favorite novel of all time, if I had to pick just one. I highly recommend it. It deals with so many themes I’m interested in, and is really just a fantastic book. I’ve been meaning to re-read it again, too. I can’t remember what the first translation was that I read, maybe a Penguin Classics version. But I also have the Edith Grossman translation, and I’m hoping to find the time to read that one also; it’s supposed to be really good.


  2. Catana October 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Honestly? I couldn’t even finish the article. Maybe because it embodies one of the few universal truths–that humans haven’t changed much over the centuries. There is always some kind of intellectual elite group that enjoys debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. And their arguments are still of no interest to anyone but themselves. But I would like to find time for Don Quixote someday.


  3. Alexander M Zoltai October 5, 2011 at 9:27 pm


    I have the John Ormsby translation–don’t really know if it’s good or not…

    I probably should do some research on it, eh??


  4. Alexander M Zoltai October 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm


    Different people’s responses to the same writing

    I found the article fascinating.


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