Patrick Downes alerted me to this provoking article in the NY Times, provoking because like many myopic American critics this person cannot see beyond the shores of the continental U.S. (except for very, very obvious outsiders like Sartre and Murdoch). I can’t start a list, but maybe I will. Broch, Kundera, Musil, Frisch… Anyway, this is a good example of creeping provincialism in the contemporary c(v)ulture industry.
Can a novelist write philosophically? Even those novelists most commonly deemed “philosophical” have sometimes answered with an emphatic no. Iris Murdoch, the longtime Oxford philosopher and author of some two dozen novels treating highbrow themes like consciousness and morality, argued that philosophy and literature were contrary pursuits. Philosophy calls on the analytical mind to solve conceptual problems in an “austere, unselfish, candid” prose, she said in a BBC interview broadcast in 1978, while literature looks to the imagination to show us something “mysterious, ambiguous, particular” about the world. Any appearance of philosophical ideas in her own novels was an inconsequential reflection of what she happened to know. “If I knew about sailing ships I would put in sailing ships,” she said. “And in a way, as a novelist, I would rather know about sailing ships than about philosophy.”