Have the Days of Reading Fiction Really Come to an End?

I’ve been keeping Fitzgerald by my bedside, in hopes of reading him before bed. But I know that merely keeping him under the lamp light is not enough: Husserl and Quine rush in during the day, taking up all of my brain space, and Fitz gets pushed to the margins. I remember the heights he brought me to with This Side of Paradise, but I have different priorities now, no use encouraging those emotions…

Reading theory nourishes the brain substantially–no contention there, I’m not fulminating philosophy–but theory has become more familiar to me now than any other type of writing, and there’s an imbalance. I told a friend recently that philosophy has reasoned the poetry out of me, which is to say that I’ve learned to think in a way that processes my emotions so that they’re configured before I can get them down on paper unpasteurized. I like fiction because it indulges my emotions: it pulls at them chaotically, it doesn’t aim to create order out of them.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s possible for theory to get one riled up and to encourage strong emotion. However, this emotion usually has a definite object or subject of direction. Reading fiction is different in that various themes and characters swing and sway in ways that step on and tug at latent emotions already present, giving them legs. And what some authors are capable of crafting with words is astonishing!

Literature makes use of language in creative, open-ended ways that are less likely to be found in philosophy. My mind craves this creativity; in addition to the nourishing theory-meals, it wants something like a fresh pain au chocolat from a French bakery. To apply my minimal food-wisdom to this topic: nourishment is not just about what you stuff in there, it’s also about how you ingest and digest it, sometimes about the aesthetics, and occasionally about who it connects you to. My system needs all these facets of nourishment fulfilled.

So: should I make time for Morrison and Kadare, Hemingway and Garcia-Marquez, Nin and Breton? I really think I should, especially after reminding myself that all I need to trade is 10 pages of Heidegger for 100 of Joyce. So Fitz: you’re coming off of that bedside table tonight.

This entry was posted in reading.

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