Enacting ideas in fiction, or exploring them?

In this piece of literary criticism, I examine the question of how ideas manifest in two contemporary books we might well call “novels of ideas“. The paper’s abstract goes like this:

“Philosophically engaged fiction often employs ideas in ways that reflect the exploitation-exploration dilemma in developmental psychology: by exploiting well articulated theories by enacting their conflicts, or by exploring the uncertainties of puzzling ontologies or moral complexities. We can see this in action in many works, but some novels of ideas seek to defy such categorization, with lessons for readers and writers. This paper analyzes two recent works – The Overstory by Richard Powers (2018) and Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen (2016) – to show how they deal with related concerns and settings through very different approaches. While Powers offers an enactment, its complexity seeks to evade the book becoming a simple polemic. McKenzie’s protagonist explores her muddled identity, philosophy and much else while flirting with the enactment of ideas when she does not comprehend.”

You can read the full paper in the journal New Writing.

#literary criticism, #novel of ideas, #enactment, #exploration, #The Overstory, #The Portable Velben

Published by

Donald Nordberg

Donald Nordberg - writer | academic | non-executive director