Monday, February 23, 2015

"A darker utility" and some thoughts about fiction.

Jeremy Bentham's Corpse.
A Darker Utility indeed.
I'm happy to report that my short story "A darker utility" will be published in the next edition of New Contrast, South Africa's oldest literary journal still in print.

This is an interesting pub for a couple reasons.

The first is that this will be the first "literary" piece that I've had published.

The other cool thing about this is that it's the first story I've written that's actually inspired (broadly) by philosophy. I've been very careful to try and keep my study of philosophy out of my writing. I think that too much philosophical content misses the whole point of imaginative literature. If there is philosophy it should be implicit, it should be dramatized, it shouldn't be the centerpiece of the work. "Sophie's World" might be a bestseller, but god damn, as a work of fiction I'm happy to say that it's a major failure. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" has far better integration of philosophical ideas, because it feels like someone thinking. It's thought, dramatized. That's why it's so much more successful than the follow up "Lila", which often reads as an exposition of an existing philosophy than thought coming into existence. In this regards, Descartes' "Meditations" is probably a more successful dramatization of thought in process than is Pirsig's second book.

In this case, though, my story was inspired by some work in moral psychology on psychopaths (see, for instance, Nichols' "How Psychopaths threaten Moral Rationalism: Is It Irrational to be Imoral?") - so the title suggests that the story is about the bad parts of utilitarian thinking (even though, strictly speaking, my main character isn't really a utilitarian - she started out being one, and at the end I just wanted to keep the title).

I have a lot that I'd like to say about the relationship between literature and philosophy, and -- in particular -- about philosophy in literature. Perhaps in another post, though.

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