1. Pisces21
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    Pisces21 Member

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    Philosophical narrative?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Pisces21, Jan 19, 2014.

    Hey everyone!
    For those who read my introduction back in December, I am a short story writer (primarily) and I consider myself to be a "pioneer" of sorts in a genre I like to call *clears throat* philosophical narrative! (Vive le Philo-Sophia!) Now, I find these words to be self explanatory when it comes to a genre ( and we may discuss whether this is truly a genre) but what exactly comes to your mind when I say I write "philosophical narrative" short stories? Does this genre sound appealing to you? What's an example of a short-story, book, movie, TV show, etc. that uses this heavily or could be classified under this elusive genre?
     
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  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain comes to mind. That's the only novel I can think of at the moment. I think the term for such kinds of books is called "novel of ideas" or something along those lines.

    Honestly, I don't see the story story being a good format for this because philosophical ideas take many pages to fully develop and explore. Of course, there are short stories that are based on philosophical ideas, such as Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," but I don't think that's what you're talking about here.

    It'd be great if you could expand on the idea of a philosophical narrative for me just so I can make sure I'm understanding you correctly.
     
  3. Billaferd
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    Billaferd Member

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    When I hear "Philosophical Narrative" my mind goes directly to something like Greek mythology with a hint of grim fairy tales. I don't deal much with the soft sciences so the only thing I can think of off hand is maybe Chicken Soup for the Soul.

    Somehow though, I think you define it differently.
     
  4. iPatrick
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    iPatrick Member

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    Plato used sarcastic dialogues to prove his points. So when I see "Philosophical Narrative" I think you have your own philosophical ideas about life or death etc... And you want to prove it through your characters.
     
  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The Little Prince? The Handmaid's Tale? A Death in Venice? Anything by Jean Paul Sarte? Personally, an authors philosophy rears it's head in a lot of novels and they can span any genre but I guess it could be a loose genre onto itself.

    Am I interested in it? Sure, if it's done right. ( I guess that goes with any novel - lol )

    But philosophy can turn a good writer into an awful wind-bag if it's done wrong. It takes guts, talent and humble/boldness to get it right. The writer can't skate by on head logic - that this sounds right, it's a subject/cause/belief that has to be in their heart for them to make readers care about it.
     
  6. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Terry Goodkind has loads of philosophy stuff in his Sword of Truth series.
    Little bit preachy at times but I enjoyed it.
     
  7. Pisces21
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    Pisces21 Member

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    Ding Ding Ding! This is essentially what I meant when I say "Philosophical narrativ"! As a previous poster stated above, "Le Petit Prince" ( the little prince) is certainly one that I am familiar with that would fall under this genre! As to the notion that they a short story is inferior to longer novels when it comes to this genre , I believe just the opposite. While it's true that it takes the whole length of a longer novel to develop one's ideas/ philosophies through plot, I believe if done well, short story can certainly provide a far more potent medium for exploring this genre. They provide for a more succinct, direct exploration of ideas without getting muddled in plot details of a long novel. Part of the reason I , myself, am a short-story writer is because I don't have the patience to write a novel- at least not yet...

    P.S. sorry for the uber-late reply, college is crazy but I'll promise to be more active!
     
  8. David K. Thomasson
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    I hadn't read your December post, so I looked it up. You said:
    Thinking I was about to learn what you mean by "philosophical narrative," I found myself presented instead with a challenge:
    You say you're a "pioneer" in this genre and now "specialize" in writing this "brand of short stories." Instead of asking others how they might go about this so-far undefined genre, why don't you show us how you go about it? What is your definition of "philosophical narrative"? Perhaps you might link to a sample of this new genre in which you specialize.
     
  9. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    He did? I've read quite a few of Plato's dialogues, and I've yet to catch him being sarcastic or trying to "prove a point."
     
  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, like A Christmas Carol, or 1984, or Fahrenheit 451?
     
  11. Wowzie
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    Wowzie Member

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    Wha-wha-what are some of your references?

    Wowzie's getting suspicious, and wants to know what he's getting into.
     
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  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Since you want to write fiction, I should mention that Socratic dialogues are closer to formal works of philosophy than fiction.

    Perhaps you mean something else when you say "philosophical narrative," but simply having a character talk about some problem in philosophy or give his/her opinions on some philosophical subject does not make the work philosophical in nature. Like I mentioned in my earlier post, Mann's The Magic Mountain is a prime example of philosophical literature. Take a look at a few passages from that book to see what I mean. It borrows the style and presentation one would normally find in a philosophy essay while talking about an important problem/topic in philosophy.
     
  13. Pisces21
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    I will certainly have to take a look at The Magic Mountain, but I do believe that "simply having a character talk about some problem in philosophy or give his/her opinions on some philosophical subject" could make the work philosophical in nature if it's a short story and the whole story is that character's thoughts and musings/tussles... otherwise, I'd say you're right..

    I've never actually read A Christmas Carol, or Fahrenheit 451, but 1984 I know would certainly be an example.

    *erupts in laughter* Yes! Brilliant idea! I could post my short story, but I thought you had to have at least 20 posts before I could post my short story...
     
  14. Jecon
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    Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World may be a good example.
     
  15. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Hmmm... seems to me like there are examples of this being done before. I know you're not talking novel length, but works that come to mind are Utopia, Candide, Thérèse Raquin, Heart of Darkness, Frankenstein, Fahrenheit 451... Maybe you mean something closer to classical philosophy, but as someone mention Plato used characters, more or less to frame his arguments. Jesus used parables. And there are plenty of examples pointed to here.

    If you are truly looking to pioneer a new kind of short story, perhaps you could elaborate what you're trying to do that separates your stories from these others. I'd argue determinist and transcendetalist literature is pretty intellectual, as is fiction produced in the Age of Reason (i.e. the Enlightenment Era). Further, I question the potential success of stories that are comprised completely of the character's musings (which are really your musings). This was done heavily in earlier literary periods. Writing was very author-centric, but clearly we've moved passed it, as shown by literature that rejects didactic style for character driven, action-/conflict-filled stories. Being too overtly meditative or philosophical might undercut the effectiveness of your work because there may be very little story.

    You might find the most success by using the story to highlight ideas that readers must draw for themselves or that are hinted to or scattered within the writing. Make the readers ask the questions, don't give the questions to them. That makes for a very boring read in our current era. The 19th and 20th centuries seem more the place for what you seem to be suggesting. No offense! :p I just find it hard to believe you're developing something new with all of the literature out there. Even poetry has some "philosophical" narratives if you consider Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" among many others, which I can't remember.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014
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  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    So basically you want to be a 19th century Russian?
     
  17. vera2014
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    Life of Pi seemed philosophical to me. The main character had studied three different religions. It was interesting to see how his faiths influenced how he handled the challenges he faced.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Anything by Sartre or Kafka comes to mind. Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky but also books like 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' (arguably nowhere near the top of this genre, but still). It's not a new concept.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014
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  19. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Plus one for Sartre. Check out Camus while you're at it.
     
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  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @thirdwind : I knew forgot someone! :D
     
  21. Pisces21
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    "being too overtly meditative or philosophical" is a matter of personal taste, though I would generally agree that it would be a bit too heavy-handed for most people. Personally, I hate when there's too many little intricacies and details in a story that are developed because they only really distract from the central ideas and themes of the work.

    Nevertheless, I certainly agree- you make a good point about this being more of a 19th or 20th century sort of deal. I also like the suggestion about making the readers ask the questions but sometimes I guess I like it when there are bits of the character/narrator analyzing themeselves their reality. Perhaps this comes after years of English class where I've experienced the arduous process of having to figure out what it was the author "intended", so I appreciate when it's finally done for me? Hahaha who knows. Anyways, I have a short story I've written myself that fits into to this "genre" that I am "pioneering" that I'd like to share on here, but I'm not sure I have enough posts?
     
  22. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    The point I was making in my post is that literature evolves. There was a period when overtly didactic literature was more popular, primarily because most readers were educated men. Today, however, most readers read for entertainment above education or introspection. That is not to say there is no audience for intelligent work; there is. We, as writers, just have to use different techniques.

    Past writers have been more forthwith their intent. The confusion that many of us younger readers have, coming from literary analysis classes, is that we are taught to be critical, surmising other possible intents or to look at stories through different lenses to divine new social or intellectual value. In other words, read something like Utopia it's rather clear that the author is analyzing the social implications of a utopia, implying that it would be less than perfect at the individual/human level. Read something like Heart of Darkness, where there is little by way of story but much contemplation, it becomes evident that the author is critiquing the idea and effects of British imperialism, "race" relations, and humanity. In these works you have longer sections of speculative narrative that all but consider their points for us, still leaving much to be decided. They generally try to veil it by using an educated character, capable of higher thought.

    Look at something like To Kill a Mockingbird, you'll see clear themes and questions regarding race and racism, judicial corruption, and even family. It's a very intelligent book, but it is less explicit. The story presents the ideas through events and natural discourse, but leave more to the reader to determine. The writer is more invisible, if you will. More modern than that, The Hunger Games is loaded with themes such as wealth vs. poverty, gov't corruption, child violence, and even appearances. But none of that is overtly told to the reader by characters contemplating the fairness of society for pages on end. You have more stories like, Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, and even a number of comic books that are all very intelligent, but you must get through the story.

    I could go on, but I think that should give you enough to see what I'm getting at. Modern stories are driven be emotion, tension, and conflict. Readers want to read the action (that is, what's happening in the story). There is plenty of room for reflection, speculation and thematic questions to arise within that, but it should feel more natural. Modern readers are generally looking for character, not narrator, so we use the character's pov to tell the story and make our points. ya follow?
     
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  23. Pisces21
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    Yes, I get your points and I agree very much; thank you for further expanding upon what you meant. So it sounds to me that depending on how explicit you are about themes and ideas , it's as if you might as well be writing a thesis on the matter rather than a story. I agree with it "feeling more natural"- and that's the thing - perhaps the goal of this "genre" is starting with a set of ideas and truths/themes and constructing a plot/cast around these ideas in a way that conveys the ideas as naturally as possible. I submit that "philosophical narrative" could contain much "emotion, tension, and conflict" as you suggest modern readers are looking for. The entire time, I've been thinking of this very well done anime (based on a light-novel series in Japan) entitled "Durarara!!" - what intrigues me is that plot occurs, and then as the plots happens, the character/narrator is giving an insight that is so "deep" that most viewers likely wouldn't have picked up on it themselves and no matter how many times you watch the plot with the insight in mind, you still have to work to see this theme that the insightful narrator just revealed.
     
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  24. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Most of Sartre's work is Philosophical narrative, and Nietzsche's Zarathustra.
     
  25. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    You wouldn't be wrong either. If I were to put it differently, you could say certain older literature made readers think by carrying them through speculation and contemplation of ideas as presented in the story, while more modern works make readers think by coaxing them toward ideas as presented through story. Now that I think about it though, one of the things that makes Shakespeare so timeless is that his work, despite the language, is remarkably modern. Looking at his tragedies and comedies, they are very intelligent works, loaded with timeless themes. He presents them through character, which only makes sense because he didn't have section is of narration to give readers. There were interesting monologues, but they didn't focus on the main themes of the plays, but pointed to them, ya know.

    I like that you mentioned starting with the idea and constructing the story around it. Zola did just that in Therese Raquin. I rather enjoyed that book. It is not an example of modern fiction, but he makes some interesting comments in his preface to the second edition, pointing out that it was supposed to be a sort of philosophical, "scientific" experiment. Take a look:

     

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