Philosophical fiction seems to be an uncomfortable topic of conversation. To have written fiction counts for next to nothing on an academic CV and many who have are nervous about ‘coming out’. And yet it’s hard to imagine what the discipline of philosophy would be like without Plato’s Republic or Symposium, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay or The Mandarins, Sartre’s Nausea, or Camus’ The Stranger.
In The New York Times a few years ago, James Ryerson described the tension thus:
Philosophy has historically viewed literature with suspicion, or at least a vague unease…Philosophy is written for the few; literature for the many. Philosophy is concerned with the general and abstract; literature with the specific and particular. Philosophy dispels illusions; literature creates them. Most philosophers are wary of the aesthetic urge in themselves. It says something about philosophy that two of its greatest practitioners, Aristotle and Kant, were pretty terrible writers.
In the interest of raising awareness about the under-appreciated nexus of philosophy and literature, we’d love to hear about your favorite works of philosophical fiction. There are lots of lists of philosophical fiction books, such as the reader-driven ranking on Goodreads, this incomplete list on Flavorwire (in which only one woman, Iris Murdoch, is mentioned), and last week on the blog there were some links to really interesting pieces in the comment section. Which other works of philosophical fiction would you recommend? Do you have any on your summer reading list? What works of philosophical fiction are you writing? (N.B. Self-promotion is strongly encouraged.) Tell us in the comment section below, or if you’d like to write a post about it, pitch it to us here.
Currently I’m reading Alain de Botton’s new novel The Course of Love. In between italicized philosophical interludes, de Botton tells the story of Kirsten and Rabih, who meet, fall in love, get married, and live frustratingly ever after. As with all de Botton’s work, it’s written for a general audience. Although most philosophers will be familiar with the core ideas about Romanticism and libertinism (and, perhaps, also with the all-too-common conjugal tensions), the style is admirably light, swift, and subtly humorous – which makes for easy hammock-style reading.