Literature and philosophy

Now that the summer examination results are behind us and that we still have a few weeks of freedom to be enjoyed before the beginning of a new academic year, it is time to put aside the classics of Philosophy and let our relaxed minds become entranced by the inspiring plots of great works of fiction. Literature turns the central questions of human existence into an art-form and who would deny that reading the works of Borges or Proust does not constitute a philosophical exercise enhanced by a genuine aesthetic experience. Nietzsche, the most art-conscious of philosophers, expected his works to be read for ‘intellectual profit’ as well as sheer pleasure while Kant’s analytical style seemed aimed at an exclusively academic audience.

What sort of books, then, should we recommend as an inviting introduction to the subject if not thought-provoking novels, such as Huxley’s Brave New World of Voltaire’s Candide, not to mention Orwell’s 1984 or Sartre’s Nausea. What a pity that challenging thinkers such as Hegel or Heidegger were never tempted to illustrate their most difficult concepts through works of fiction. Just imagine ‘The Adventures of Dasein in Manhattan’ or Napoleon starring in a Hegelian-inspired ‘War and Zeitgeist’.  The summer holidays are a marvellous opportunity to choose a handful of books offering a different slant on everyday experience. Paul Auster’s eerie portrayal of ‘postmodern’ American life is as good a philosophical work as any essay by Baudrillard & Co. If you need any further recommendation, I would suggest you browse the Wikipedia Philosophy and Literature entry which gives a list of ‘works of fiction’ with a ‘philosophical content’. Surprisingly, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy does not feature on the list, nor does Dr Johnson’s History of Rasselas, for that matter. Everyone has his own top ten list of ‘novels of ideas’, so let’s take advantage of our summer readings to discover new story-telling philosophers and explore new philosophical perspectives on our never-ceasing ‘big’ questions!        

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