fiction as a form of convseration

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fiction as a form of convseration

Postby GoodRudeFun » Tue Feb 17, 2009 10:52 am UTC

Is it just me or does it seem that fiction is no longer a viable form of conversation? I mean in the manner classic novels seem to use fiction. Not just for pure escapism purposes, but to make a point as well, to carry more weight than just the story.

1984 for example, used a hypothetical world and a fully fleshed out story to illustrate a point. Many of Asimov's works did as well, in fact it almost seems as if Asimov was the last of these authors to be taken seriously. These days almost all books seem to be pure escapism, or are treated as such.

An example: book TV is exclusive to non-fiction, as if fiction has nothing to discuss, no enduring worth that will carry it through the ages like the old classics. Only non-fiction material is to be taken seriously...

Or is it just that such works take a long time to be recognized as worthy pieces with messages and points?

I'm having trouble focusing right now... I hope you get the point I'm trying to get at. Maybe later I'll be able to come back and present this a little better. Though it'd also help if someone here could give me a few ideas to bounce around or consider. Might help my mind snap back and start working >.<
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Zohar » Tue Feb 17, 2009 12:00 pm UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote:I'm having trouble focusing right now... I hope you get the point I'm trying to get at.


No, not really. First, "fiction" isn't a form of conversation. Just like "movies", "mouths" or "language". I'm not sure what you meant to write.

If what you meant was the books are no longer a popular topic around the dinner table, I disagree. Even for me, who reads mostly sci-fi and comics (which aren't very popular), I still get to talk about them. A lot of people around me talk about other pieces of fiction set in the real world, many of them are considered good. Two, just off the top of my head, are The Kite Runner and Q and A (on which Slumdog Millionaire is based).

There will always be pop stuff like Dan Brown, Harry Potter (which gets talked about *a lot*, also), but that doesn't mean other books don't get the attention they deserve. If you feel you're missing out on that, maybe you should try reading some other books, or try and fine a local book club or something.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby SecondTalon » Tue Feb 17, 2009 3:49 pm UTC

The OP is asking about Fiction as a Soapbox. The ol' "If everyone did as I said, here's how it'd work out in this story I came up with!" or "Watch out for these people I don't agree with, or it'll turn out just like this fictional tale I'm weaving in which I illustrate my points, thus proving I'm right!"

Which.. yeah, there's still gobs of it out there.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby justaman » Tue Feb 17, 2009 7:45 pm UTC

Yeah, as ST says gobs of it out there... One of this forum's favourite authors springs to mind: Orson Scott Card, also try Robert Heinlein (stranger from a strange land, starship troopers), Salman Rushdie (the satanic verses), Frank Herbert (dune series) and heaps more that I am sure I will think of later.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Joeldi » Tue Feb 17, 2009 11:55 pm UTC

Except that half of those authors died more than 20 years ago. I do disagree with the OP, but never really pay much attention to the underlying messages of my books. So what is a very recent and powerful example?
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:34 am UTC

Joeldi wrote:Except that half of those authors died more than 20 years ago. I do disagree with the OP, but never really pay much attention to the underlying messages of my books. So what is a very recent and powerful example?


Left Behind springs to mind. On the other side, His Dark Materials.

But if we mean "serious" fiction, the thing is that fiction probably requires more time than nonfiction to truly judge. A nonfiction book is true, period, or should be. But a fiction book's impact and relevance take a while--it depends on it catching on and hanging around in the public consciousness for a while. Until that happens, we don't know how universal or timeless the message will prove to be.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby GoodRudeFun » Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:22 pm UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:
Joeldi wrote:Except that half of those authors died more than 20 years ago. I do disagree with the OP, but never really pay much attention to the underlying messages of my books. So what is a very recent and powerful example?


Left Behind springs to mind. On the other side, His Dark Materials.

But if we mean "serious" fiction, the thing is that fiction probably requires more time than nonfiction to truly judge. A nonfiction book is true, period, or should be. But a fiction book's impact and relevance take a while--it depends on it catching on and hanging around in the public consciousness for a while. Until that happens, we don't know how universal or timeless the message will prove to be.


You know what, you're right. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

I guess I was just looking at what modern authors are considered, without realizing just that: it takes quite some time for the "impact and relevence", to borrow your words, to set in. I should have considered that.

On the bright side, This means that literature isn't going to die (in general culture) so easily, as it seemed like it would for a second.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:24 pm UTC

Nope. In fact, the Economist had an article a few weeks ago about how reading among Americans is on the increase.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Spinoza » Fri Feb 20, 2009 3:54 pm UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:Nope. In fact, the Economist had an article a few weeks ago about how reading among Americans is on the increase.


Yes, but nearly all of that is Harry Potter. :wink: (I'm kidding of course, but only slightly).

I'd love to see more emphasis on translations of great works of non-English literature in highschools. Children should be exposed to the majesty of Lessing's Emilia Galotti and Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (a book so forceful and profound, it caused copycat suicides among the young men who read it when it was first published!)

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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby SecondTalon » Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:05 pm UTC

Emilia Galotti wrote:Set in Italy, Emilia Galotti tells the story of a virtuous young woman of the upper middle class. The absolutist prince of Guastalla, Hettore Gonzaga, becomes obsessed with the idea of making Emilia his lover after their first meeting. He thus gives his conniving Chamberlain, Marinelli, the right to do anything in his power to delay the previously arranged marriage between Emilia and Count Appiani. Marinelli then hires criminals who shortly thereafter murder the count on his way to the wedding. Emilia is quickly brought to safety in the count's nearby summer residence. Unlike her mother Claudia, Emilia does not yet recognise the true implications of the scheme. A few moments later, Countess Orsina, the prince's former mistress, comes to the residence as well. Out of frustration over her harsh rejection by the prince, she attempts to convince Odoardo, Emilia's father, to avenge Count Appiani by the means of stabbing the prince to death. Odoardo, however, hesitates in agreeing with this proposal and decides to leave the revenge in the hands of God. Emilia, who must remain under the protection of the prince due to another intrigue on Marinelli's behalf, attempts to convince her father to kill her in order to maintain her dignity in light of the prince's exertions to seduce her. The father agrees and stabs her, but immediately feels appalled by his deed. In the end Odoardo leaves the matter to the prince. He subsequently decides that Marinelli is responsible for the catastrophe and has him banned from his court. Ultimately Emilia's father recognises God as the absolute authority.
The Sorrows of a Young Werther wrote:The majority of The Sorrows of Young Werther is presented as a collection of letters written by Werther, a young artist of highly sensitive and passionate temperament, and sent to his friend Wilhelm.

In these letters, Werther gives a very intimate account of his stay in the fictional village of Wahlheim (based on the town of Garbenheim, near Wetzlar). He is enchanted by the simple ways of the peasants there. He meets and falls instantly in love with Charlotte, a beautiful young girl who is taking care of her siblings following the death of their mother. Charlotte is, however, already engaged to a man named Albert, who is in fact 11 years her senior.

Despite the pain this causes Werther, he spends the next few months cultivating a close friendship with both of them. His pain eventually becomes so great that he is forced to leave and go to Weimar. While he is away, he makes the acquaintance of Fräulein von B. He suffers a great embarrassment when he forgetfully visits a friend on the day when the entire aristocratic set normally meets there. He returns to Wahlheim after this, where he suffers more than he did before, partially because Charlotte and Albert are now married. Every day serves as a torturous reminder that Charlotte will never be able to requite his love. Out of pity for her friend and respect for her husband, Lotte comes to the decision that Werther must not visit her so frequently. He visits her one final time, and they are both overcome with emotion after Werther's recitation of a portion of "Ossian".

Werther had realized even before this incident that one of them—Charlotte, Albert, or Werther himself—had to die. Unable to hurt anyone else or seriously consider committing murder, Werther sees no other choice but to take his own life. After composing a farewell letter (to be found after he commits suicide), he writes to Albert asking for his two pistols, under a pretense that he is going "on a journey." Lotte receives the request with great emotion and sends the pistols. Werther then shoots himself in the head, but doesn't expire until 12 hours after he has shot himself. He is buried under a linden tree, a tree he talks about frequently in his letters, and the funeral was not attended by clergymen, Albert or his beloved Charlotte.


so... you're suggesting that a great book for kids is one that teaches them that if you can't love and be loved by whom you want at the time because they're already in a relationship, you should either conspire to murder their current lover, or just kill yourself?

Hey, if it makes finding an apartment easier on me, 'cause everyone else is either dead or in jail, I'm cool with it.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Narsil » Sat Feb 21, 2009 6:04 pm UTC

It strikes me as more socially considerate to have teachers teach more hopeful and dare I say cheery books. I have lost count of how many books taught to me in the last two years have ended with the main character dying or killing themselves.

What about The Count of Monte-Cristo? Why don't teachers have students read that? It encompasses all the themes teachers want students to see, and it's from another time and place.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby TheAmazingRando » Sat Feb 21, 2009 9:35 pm UTC

There's always been pure escapist fiction, even back when those authors were writing. The difference is, through time, the slog kind of falls away and the only writers you can see are the ones that have stood the test of time, usually by having something important to say.

But, no, there are plenty of novelists still writing today who fill their books with philosophy, history, and insight, whose books are an intellectual treat and not just a form of escapism. It's just a matter of looking for them.

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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Jahoclave » Tue Feb 24, 2009 6:33 pm UTC

Second, to be honest, that sounds more like a book report than literary criticism.

The best example that comes to mind of a "conversation" within literature is of these African novelists who write about colonialism. Through their fictional works they're discussing social issues that are brought on by imperialism, such as the loss of culture, identity, reduction into poverty, the colonization of the mind. Post-Colonial studies also happens to be one of the hotter forms of lit crit at the moment. I also happen to be taking a course in it at the moment so it's kind of fresh in the mind.

There's also a quote by somebody about how science fiction is about our current selves, and of course, my professor changed around the website for his science fiction class since it's about dystopian and utopian fiction this semester. And yay, his book came out. But take for an example, cyber punk. It's a conversation on what technology means to us. It's an approach on what capitalism is currently doing with technology by using a futuristic vision of how this will play out in the future.

But consider this short passage from Fredric Jameson on Utopia:
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Utopia would seem to offer the spectacle of one of those rare phenomena whose concept is indistinguishable from its reality, whose ontology coincides with its representation. Does this peculiar entity still have a social function? If it no longer does so, then perhaps the explanation lies in that extraordinary historical dissociation into two distinct worlds which characterizes globalization today. In one of these worlds, the disintegration of the social is so absolute—misery, poverty, unemployment, starvation, squalor, violence and death—that the intricately elaborated social schemes of utopian thinkers become as frivolous as they are irrelevant. In the other, unparalleled wealth, computerized production, scientific and medical discoveries unimaginable a century ago as well as an endless variety of commercial and cultural pleasures, seem to have rendered utopian fantasy and speculation as boring and antiquated as pre-technological narratives of space flight.

The term alone survives this wholesale obsolescence, as a symbolic token over which essentially political struggles still help us to differentiate left and right. Thus ‘utopian’ has come to be a code word on the left for socialism or communism; while on the right it has become synonymous with ‘totalitarianism’ or, in effect, with Stalinism. The two uses do seem somehow to overlap, and imply that a politics which wishes to change the system radically will be designated as utopian—with the right-wing undertone that the system (now grasped as the free market) is part of human nature; that any attempt to change it will be accompanied by violence; and that efforts to maintain the changes (against human nature) will require dictatorship. So two practical-political issues are at play here: a left critique of social-democratic reformism, within the system; and on the other hand a free-market fundamentalism. But why not simply discuss those issues directly and openly, without recourse to this, seemingly literary, third issue of utopia? Indeed, one could turn the question around and say that we are perfectly free to discuss utopia as a historical and textual or generic issue, but not to complicate it with politics. (In any case, has the word not always been used by some of the most eminent political figures on all sides as an insulting slur on their enemies?)

As you can see, there's a lot of issues in a Utopian novel that have relevance today. Race issues where really big in past science fiction as well.

Frankly, I blame k-12 English education for fucking up everybody's perception of just what the hell people in English departments actually do. And quite frankly book tv can suck my nuts. But also, it takes a few years for people to really start getting criticism together on a book. Considering it can take six months or more to write the essay in the first place, it'll be a few years before the literary establishment actually starts getting the discussion going.

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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby SecondTalon » Tue Feb 24, 2009 8:16 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Second, to be honest, that sounds more like a book report than literary criticism.
Plot summaries ripped from Wikipedia sound like book reports, I suppose. Those weren't meant to be criticism, just summaries of the plots.

The criticism is more of a rejection of the teachings of "Da Classics" because they are "Da Classics" and not because of any sort of relevance to life as it stands today. It seems some of the ones often taught in schools deal with finding independence as an individual and not as an extension of your family and class, and accepting that even if you fuck up, at least it's you that are fucking up and not you being coerced into it or due to some sort of family ties keeping you in your place - which is a great lesson for the late 1800s. I figure the ones being taught nowadays should perhaps have a focus on what it is to be human, an individual in a sea of human-shaped flesh that may or may not be human as well, at least not fully - to find what identity means in a world where one can nearly effortlessly switch between one's name given to them at birth and the names chosen for oneself, on the nature of interactions when no one is in the same room, and so on.

Basically, less Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre, more 1984 and Brave New World.

But then again, all of that is outside of the scope of this and.. really, just reinforces the supposed lack of modern literature that fills the same niche.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Jahoclave » Tue Feb 24, 2009 10:09 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:Second, to be honest, that sounds more like a book report than literary criticism.
Plot summaries ripped from Wikipedia sound like book reports, I suppose. Those weren't meant to be criticism, just summaries of the plots.

The criticism is more of a rejection of the teachings of "Da Classics" because they are "Da Classics" and not because of any sort of relevance to life as it stands today. It seems some of the ones often taught in schools deal with finding independence as an individual and not as an extension of your family and class, and accepting that even if you fuck up, at least it's you that are fucking up and not you being coerced into it or due to some sort of family ties keeping you in your place - which is a great lesson for the late 1800s. I figure the ones being taught nowadays should perhaps have a focus on what it is to be human, an individual in a sea of human-shaped flesh that may or may not be human as well, at least not fully - to find what identity means in a world where one can nearly effortlessly switch between one's name given to them at birth and the names chosen for oneself, on the nature of interactions when no one is in the same room, and so on.

Basically, less Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre, more 1984 and Brave New World.

But then again, all of that is outside of the scope of this and.. really, just reinforces the supposed lack of modern literature that fills the same niche.

Well, part of the problem is that they're trying to play it too safe. Pride & Prejudice isn't really all that controversial in its concepts. Religion being a problem, capitalism being really bad, and Female dominated societies tend to piss off the right wing conservatives. If they were teaching in High School what is going on at the scholarly level at the moment (dumbed down to the level of course), parents would be shitting bricks every week.

Like I said, post-colonialism is the hottest thing to trot at the moment and from many of the books I've read, they've done a number on religion.

What they should be doing is teaching critical methodology instead of wasting their time on picking out the meaning of some dude's eye color. The classics still have a great deal of other interesting messages, but you never get to them because you're never keyed into it.

But I do think there needs to be a better incorporation of more modern works. Shakespeare is great and all, but he's not the only playwright in the existence of the English language. I also think there needs to be (especially in American schools) a more broad spectrum of genre fiction. It's something that America has really contributed to literature and it's hardly included, even in the Norton Anthologies. Quite frankly, if I'm ever in a position, k-12 English education is going to get radically shifted.

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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Spinoza » Thu Mar 05, 2009 3:46 am UTC

SecondTalon wrote:
Emilia Galotti wrote:Set in Italy, Emilia Galotti tells the story of a virtuous young woman of the upper middle class. The absolutist prince of Guastalla, Hettore Gonzaga, becomes obsessed with the idea of making Emilia his lover after their first meeting. He thus gives his conniving Chamberlain, Marinelli, the right to do anything in his power to delay the previously arranged marriage between Emilia and Count Appiani. Marinelli then hires criminals who shortly thereafter murder the count on his way to the wedding. Emilia is quickly brought to safety in the count's nearby summer residence. Unlike her mother Claudia, Emilia does not yet recognise the true implications of the scheme. A few moments later, Countess Orsina, the prince's former mistress, comes to the residence as well. Out of frustration over her harsh rejection by the prince, she attempts to convince Odoardo, Emilia's father, to avenge Count Appiani by the means of stabbing the prince to death. Odoardo, however, hesitates in agreeing with this proposal and decides to leave the revenge in the hands of God. Emilia, who must remain under the protection of the prince due to another intrigue on Marinelli's behalf, attempts to convince her father to kill her in order to maintain her dignity in light of the prince's exertions to seduce her. The father agrees and stabs her, but immediately feels appalled by his deed. In the end Odoardo leaves the matter to the prince. He subsequently decides that Marinelli is responsible for the catastrophe and has him banned from his court. Ultimately Emilia's father recognises God as the absolute authority.
The Sorrows of a Young Werther wrote:The majority of The Sorrows of Young Werther is presented as a collection of letters written by Werther, a young artist of highly sensitive and passionate temperament, and sent to his friend Wilhelm.

In these letters, Werther gives a very intimate account of his stay in the fictional village of Wahlheim (based on the town of Garbenheim, near Wetzlar). He is enchanted by the simple ways of the peasants there. He meets and falls instantly in love with Charlotte, a beautiful young girl who is taking care of her siblings following the death of their mother. Charlotte is, however, already engaged to a man named Albert, who is in fact 11 years her senior.

Despite the pain this causes Werther, he spends the next few months cultivating a close friendship with both of them. His pain eventually becomes so great that he is forced to leave and go to Weimar. While he is away, he makes the acquaintance of Fräulein von B. He suffers a great embarrassment when he forgetfully visits a friend on the day when the entire aristocratic set normally meets there. He returns to Wahlheim after this, where he suffers more than he did before, partially because Charlotte and Albert are now married. Every day serves as a torturous reminder that Charlotte will never be able to requite his love. Out of pity for her friend and respect for her husband, Lotte comes to the decision that Werther must not visit her so frequently. He visits her one final time, and they are both overcome with emotion after Werther's recitation of a portion of "Ossian".

Werther had realized even before this incident that one of them—Charlotte, Albert, or Werther himself—had to die. Unable to hurt anyone else or seriously consider committing murder, Werther sees no other choice but to take his own life. After composing a farewell letter (to be found after he commits suicide), he writes to Albert asking for his two pistols, under a pretense that he is going "on a journey." Lotte receives the request with great emotion and sends the pistols. Werther then shoots himself in the head, but doesn't expire until 12 hours after he has shot himself. He is buried under a linden tree, a tree he talks about frequently in his letters, and the funeral was not attended by clergymen, Albert or his beloved Charlotte.


so... you're suggesting that a great book for kids is one that teaches them that if you can't love and be loved by whom you want at the time because they're already in a relationship, you should either conspire to murder their current lover, or just kill yourself?

Hey, if it makes finding an apartment easier on me, 'cause everyone else is either dead or in jail, I'm cool with it.


Ah, you must be of the Abstinence Only school of sex education. :wink:

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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Oort » Sat Mar 07, 2009 9:56 am UTC

Spinoza wrote:Children should be exposed to ... Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (...it caused copycat suicides among the young men who read it...)


You have to admit, it doesn't sound very...inspiring. :wink:
Last edited by Oort on Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:52 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:18 pm UTC

Might want to fix your quote tags. I didn't say that.
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Re: fiction as a form of convseration

Postby Oort » Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:52 pm UTC

Sorry about that. My bad.


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