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Philosophy and Fiction?

What is philosophical fiction?  Since I have a background in philosophy and my books can be considered philosophical fictions, I get this question asked frequently.  Basically, a work of philosophical fiction explores questions and issues that are normally asked by philosophers.  Some works that can be classified as philosophical fictions are Voltaire’s Candide (1759), Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (1898), Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938), Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (1944), Samuel Beckett’s While Waiting for Godot (1953) and, my personal favorite, Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths (1962).  These fictional works are as interesting as deeply philosophical.  Certainly, none of them are boring.  They usually have well-developed characters and many of them have built-in humour.  Although background in philosophy helps to appreciate the message they are trying to get across, understanding them does not require a university degree in the subject.

James Ryerson points out in his article, The Philosophical Novel, that some philosophers and novelists feel that philosophy and novels are not a good mix.  Philosophers are often thought to be analytic thinkers with step-by-step rational argumentations and scientific-like approach to subjects that do not seem to be well-suited for fiction writing.  However, I believe that they often overlook the fact the most writers from the tradition of continental philosophy do not seem to have such a problem.  Once the hard-core scientific-like approached is relaxed, philosophical issues can be discussed through characters that are facing life’s challenges.

I put this idea to the test in both my books.  In The Curse (2014), I challenged my character, Spyder, to think about whether he should believe in the words of a fortuneteller or listen to his own intuitions and dreams.  In Real Life Choices (2015), I dedicated the book to the idea of dealing with unusual and/or bizarre circumstances; such as ghost sightings, afterlife experiences, video game characters on real-life streets, and dream situations; where the characters have to deal with moral or epistemic questions.  They have to decide what to do or what to believe without much help from anyone.

Basically, works of philosophical questions are both possible and necessary.  It is possible to argue for a point through a character’s thoughts and actions.  It is also necessary to do so, since all human beings struggle with the mysteries that life presents to all mortals in their everyday existence.  As long as the questions, such as “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is the nature of reality?” exist, fictional characters that represent the human conditions can bravely face these questions and try to answer them.

M. J. Mandoki

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