erhaps fiction is all we have. German idealist philosopher Hans Vaihinger posited something of that nature in his work on the philosophy of the as-if.
As it happens, Vaihinger’s work is only known by frequent quotations, not all of them very reliable, in papers, essays and books dealing with American literature. In that field Vaihinger seems to function as a mythical ‘deep’ layer on which many ‘surfacing’ fictional theorems are then supposed to be building (that is to say: theory as somehow included in novels, much like theoretical conjectures are brought to the attention of the reader in works like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, re-counted, or discovered as part of the ‘conte’, the progression of the discovery of what happened, how the past got to be what it is in the present, by main characters in novel stories).
The novel as a genre has a very large tradition of incorporating philosophical treatise in its corpus of ‘fiction’. Tragic and deeply moving stories by Dostojevski are largely lacerated by lengthy religious distractions, most of which could perhaps have been extracted leaving a more pure fictional work. It’s been 30 years since i read the darn thing, but i do remember giving up after 40 pages of religious treatise in his “Brothers Karamazov”. I remember a feeling most of you will recognize as ‘ok, we know you’ve got some dark hidden truth way down there, explaining it all, now please get on with the story, i want to know what happened!”. Whatever it is that we want to know while reading, it certainly isn’t the theory behind it all. Authors who keep trying to explain, will eventually get flunked by their readers.
But authors of novels always kinda seem to like, well, er , be after the truth of things by means of their fictions. They often very much want to be taken seriously. The creation of fiction seems to imply a creation of truth as a negative by-product, and where there is a large production of beauty an equal amount of theoretical build-up appears to trouble the acclaimed novelist, tempting her to burst out in interviews proclaiming her world according to ME, the abandoned I she can’t write or even speak from, the final persona that is left in the dark when all the worlds lights shine on her fictions and her raving characters.
In the novels themselves, pure theory however is only tolerated as a perforation of the fictional entourage. It’s function is exactly to drive a thread of the real through the fabric of fiction. It allows the real to percolate into the moist and the thick of the plot, in such a way that will satisfy even the hardest of readers, another novelist.
The escape into fiction, a primordial motivation to start writing fiction in the first place, may well be that the author is seeking out the excitement involved when you start writing on the edge of your ignorance. The object of desire, the agency driving the act of writing, is a nearly physical craving for truth. The Other takes the form of an Outside that needs to overtake the author so that she can speak as one of the Wise, the True, and perhaps, the horrific Elders.
Writing fiction in that sense may be a kind of weakening of the sharp edges of the unknown, a laceration of darkness with daringly thrown bolts of lightning, a move forward by means of the acid of wordiness, the dynamite of poetic language, the recoiling of growing intrigue. Amidst her territoire armée d’armes et de larmes, the author stand bold, as if nothing could ever happen to her, as if the author always knew what she is going to write, as if she has total control over all the motions she is about to initiate, just by starting out like ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs’.
Of course she doesn’t. And when we ‘re done, she, the author, us the readers, and it, the riverrun of fiction, we still don’t we don’t have the slightest clue of what ‘really’ happened while we were reading, only that our real world somehow got truncated by another, by an outside in which everything was a lot more straightforward, easier to grasp, better to hang on to, and full of sound and fury signifying exactly the same amount of nothing that we started out with.
Fiction, thus, enjoys the liberty of meaning without significance, of moving without being moved, of bringing about nothing and keeping you on the edge of your concentration while doing just that. The currants of ‘real’ theory inside the fiction function in much the same way as currants of artificial intelligence in large programs aimed at very specific goals: they lift the flow of what happens ever so slightly towards a perception of something real taking place, they reassure us that what is going on beyond our scope or hold is truly intelligent, sound reasoning, efficient data-handling: progress.
Both the Modernist novel, starting with Zola and Lawrence, as the post-modern body of fiction including such marvels of intricacy and intellectual splendour as Pynchon’s work, both takes at the novelist job, have in common this continuous friction between theory and fiction, a poromechanics as our series-subject Negarestani would have it of the imagined real by the real as conjecture and vice-versa.
But what happens if the tables turn, and the theorist wants to become the producer of fiction, and when a body of theory is lacerated by shiny strings of sensuous fiction? Will the theorist retain his manly stature as a prominent builder of systematic thought? Or will he fall victim to the strategem of his own device? Will we end up with the best of both worlds, or the worst?
Wait and see, be sure to tune in regularly to NKDEE.blogspot.com for our next episode of DIGGING FOR OIL, a review on the run for the horrors of CYCLONOPEDIA, Reza Negarestani’s take on the Middle East as a sentient entity…