Monday, January 14, 2008

Wondering about writing

Literary theory is an interesting class, since the questions of 'what does literature do, how does it operate, what should it do, ' raises larger questions of belief and morality.

Plato found the telling of 'untrue stories' to be suspect, generally lacking in knowledge of the truth and encouraging unhealthy emotions. Yet Plato's purpose for writing was educating citizens and kings to become philosophers like himself. We now have a good many more reasons to write fiction, but his purpose influenced all of Western society. It is hard to argue against the idea that 'fiction' is only good if it illuminates higher truths.

Plato's great example is the people trapped in a cave where all they can see is shadows on a wall, and this is what they believe to be reality. Leaving the cave to see real things is a shock, and going back the people still inside will not believe what you have seen. Plato's elaborate philosophy of the world being unreal and the true reality being beyond it accessible by math and philosophy is not one I believe. But it is a good story, and illustrates his difficult and abstract philosophy very well.
For a great version of the story told in cartoon style, look here , ( on the page, use the single arrow with the red circle to advance)

If fiction is just talking about the shapes of shadows from a campfire, instead of real things under the sun, then fiction is pretty worthless, except for distracting you from pursuing real truth. But I don't want to stop reading and writing fiction. In its defense, the creation of histories can contain just a much erroneous information, given its lack on documentation and inability to get answers to why things happened, or why people acted the way they did. There is a fixed vagueness to all of human writing. Which is why Plato suggests writing itself is suspect, and a person should stick to oral teaching face to face, where a person can know with certainty their ideas are transmitted and remembered correctly.
It's too late for going back to the precise memory of an oral society, nowadays we only have to remember where we left information, not what it is, or what it means.

I will have reasons for supporting fiction, and will be writing about them, at least in class, but that's not the point. I will find convincing arguments just because I don't want to live with out it. It's has positive social value after all, and somebody has to write stuff.
Perhaps the day will come when I don't hardly read anymore. It's hard to imagine, with how populated the world has gotten, it may be that a person has to read, not for enlightenment, but just to keep up.

Grady Houger

I would be a different person entirely in an oral culture. Would you?

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