What is the role of literature in our lives? What is the fiction of relationship? How do we make sense of the plethora of interpretations that get ascribed to literature? I confronted these questions during the interesting (and for me disturbing & challenging) free on-line Coursera offering Fiction of Relationship with Arnold Weinstein of Brown University.
Subjects to be discussed:
• What is the role of literature in our lives?
For Enjoyment? To understand the other? To foster empathy? To get a thrill from drama, excitement, or bone-chilling fear? To supplement our imaginations with imaginary experiences? To explore other roads that we will not or cannot take ourselves? As a propaganda or meme-selection evolutionary process? To stimulate our base emotions to make us care (about the book, its characters or its values)? Why do you read and tell stories?
What is the nature of reading? To become the other? A multidimensional "fiction of relationship"? A relationship with the story or its author?
What is the nature of art? How does art change after it enters the real world where it is experienced and discussed beyond its originator? Does it make sense to honor the artist's original intention? Or is that both unavailable and undesirable? Does art fundamentally change through time?
• What is fiction of relationship? Arnold Weinstein suggests a plethora of possibly contradictory, sometimes paradoxical, but always probing partial definitions.
As an epistemological thesis it suggests that connection (relationship) and story (fiction) are inherently intertwined. Are they? Is this a paradox? Is fiction of relationship the fundamental epistemology of Universe? [Epistemology concerns the nature of understanding or knowledge.]
As an ontological observation it suggests that story and connection are all that there is. Is fiction of relationship the fundamental ontology of Universe? [Ontology concerns the nature of being or existence.]
In human relationships it suggests the ethereal nature of bonding. Is fusion of bodies, souls, or beings possible? What is the self and the other? How do they relate? What are the dimensions of relationship? Of story? How do stories color relationships and conversely how do relationships color stories?
• What is the nature of interpretation in literature?
Jorge Luis Borges wrote a story "The Garden of Forking Paths" which suggests that all possible futures and paths exist. Arnold Weinstein seems to take the same attitude toward literary interpretation in that he engages so many that I became dizzy and almost dumb with all the possibilities.
Why do we have so many interpretations of literature? In a theory of literature course at Open Yale over 20 theories of literary interpretation are considered. I'm sure I do not have the patience for such a course, but why are there so many?
In college I refused to take literature courses because I heard that Freud was a significant force in literary interpretation. Unfortunately, Arnold Weinstein played the Freud card many times. I consider several of Weinstein's Freudian interpretations to be rubbish. Am I wrong? Is Freud an important modality of literary interpretation?
Here is a listing of the works I read for the "Fiction of Relationship" course:
• Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut (1731).
• Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847).
• Herman Melville’s Bartleby (1853) and Benito Cereno (1855).
• Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915) and A Country Doctor (1919).
• Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse (1927).
• William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932).
• Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones (1956).
• Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace (1963).
• Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987).
• J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999).