How to Do Things with Fictions

ISBN : 9780195188561

Joshua Landy
266 Pages
179 x 240 mm
Pub date
Aug 2012
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Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why does Plato's Socrates make bad arguments? Why do we root for criminal heroes? In mummy movies, why is the skeptic always the first to go? Why don't stage magicians even pretend to summon spirits any more? Why is Samuel Beckett so confusing? And why is it worth trying to answer questions like these? Witty and approachable, How to Do Things with Fictions challenges the widespread assumption that literary texts must be informative or morally improving to be of any real benefit. It reveals that authors are often best thought of not as entertainers or as educators but as personal trainers of the brain, putting their willing readers through exercises that fortify their mental capacities. This book is both deeply insightful and rigorously argued, and the journey delivers plenty of surprises along the way-that moral readings of literature can be positively dangerous; that the parables were deliberately designed to be misunderstood; that Plato knowingly sets his main character up for a fall; that we can sustain our beliefs even when we suspect them to be illusions; and more. Perhaps best of all, though, the book is written with uncommon verve and a light touch that will satisfy the generally educated public and the specialist reader alike. In How to Do things with Fictions, Joshua Landy convincingly shows how the imaginative writings sitting on our shelves may well be our best allies in the struggle for more rigorous thinking, deeper faith, greater peace of mind, and richer experience.


Table of Contents
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fiction
Formative Fictions
The Temporality of the Reading Experience
In Spite of Everything, a Role for Meaning
A Polite Aside to Historians
The Value of Formative Fictions
Chapter One-Chaucer: Ambiguity and Ethics
Prudence or Oneiromancy?
A Parody of Didacticism
Preaching to the Converted
The Asymmetry of 'Imaginative Resistance'
Virtue Ethics and Gossip
Positive Views
Chapter Two-Mark: Metaphor and Faith
Rhetorical Theories
Five Variables, Six Readings
Deliberate Opacity
The Vision of Mark
From Him Who Has Not
To Him Who Has
The Syrophenician Woman
The Formative Circle
Metaphor and Faith
Theological Ramifications
A Parable about Parables
Getting It Wrong By Getting It Right
Coda: The Secular Kingdom
Appendix: "
Chapter Three-Mallarme: Irony and Enchantment
Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin
Exorcisms and Experiments
Science and Wonder
Lucid Illusions
Stephane Mallarme
The Spell of Poetry
Setting the Scene
A Replacement Faith
How to Do Things with Verses
A Corner of Order
The Magic of Rhyme
A Training in Enchantment
A Sequence of States
The Birth of Modernism from the Spirit of Re-Enchantment
Chapter Four-Plato: Fallacy and Logic
A Platonic Coccyx
Ascent and Dissent
The Developmental Hypothesis
Dubious Dialectic
Pericles, Socrates and Plato
The Gorgias Unravels
The Uses of Oratory
Was Gorgias Refuted?
Spiritual Exercises: Seven Points in Conclusion
Appendix: Just How Bad is the Pericles Argument?
Chapter Five-Beckett: Antithesis and Tranquillity
Bringing Philosophy to an End
One Step Forward
Finding the Self to Lose the Self
An Irreducible Singleness
Res Cogitans
Solutions and Dissolutions
Two Failures
Negative Anthropology
The Beckettian Spiral
An End to Everything?
Fail Better
Glimpses of the Ideal
Two Caveats
Works Cited

About the author: 

Joshua Landy teaches French at Stanford University, where he co-founded and co-directs the Initiative in Philosophy and Literature. He is author of Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust and editor, with Michael Saler, of The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age.

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