Odd, unnatural activities: the writing of a philosophical novel

Harvey, S (2011) Odd, unnatural activities: the writing of a philosophical novel. PhD thesis, Bath Spa University.

S. Harvey - 2012.pdf

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The purpose of this study is to find which practical aspects of craft are open to the realist novelist when writing philosophical fiction. Plato began a long tradition of intelligent thought on the subject, but even amongst novelists the discussion does not often sit at the practitioner's level, and does not address the how-to questions that arise when an author tries to write philosophical content into a fictional narrative. In Section I, this study defines 'philosophical content' to characterise not only a body of enquiries that belong to western philosophical discourse, but also the mode these enquiries take, which, it is contended, is that of directness and discursiveness. The study then explores how such content can enter a novel's narrative in a way that is not unduly compromising to either the philosophy or the novel. The author's own novel, All Is Song — which is the creative counterpart to this study -provides the portal for this exploration. Sections II, V and VII revisit the philosophical content of a particular scene in the novel to see how it evolves with each rewrite and to trace the decision-making involved in the management of that content. Section III deals with an objection to the study's definition of philosophy and a 'philosophical novel', after which the remaining sections, IV, VI and VIII look respectively at the problems abstract ideas pose to literary realism, some responses to those problems as they pertain to the author's novel writing, and the degree to which All Is Song could be considered successful in fulfilling both its philosophical and literary aims. Through this analysis and reflection, the study finds that while dialogue, in the Socratic tradition, is and remains one key way of realising discursive philosophy within a narrative, a far wider and deeper structuralising of that content is needed to make the contending ideas lived and felt. It holds that once such structuralisation has taken place, a novel is not bound to the full execution of a discursive argument of the sort that exists in Platonic dialogues, say, and can express and sort philosophical ideas using an array of literary tools. The Conclusion (Section IX) suggests that this in part signals a move towards a less Platonic, more phenomenological sense of the way in which ideas can be given reality, and thus given form in the realism of the novel. The study does not conclude, however, that all discursive content should thus be 'dissolved' into extra-philosophical situations and events, but that the latter should act always to structuralise, exemplify, amplify and animate an idea or principle, and to give it as full a literary life as possible.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of Bath Spa University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

The novel All is Song(2012) to which this thesis refers is available from the publisher, Jonathan Cape - http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/ ISBN 9780224096324

Please note that the Appendices (pp103-142) have been removed from this digitized thesis due to potential copyright issues.

Keywords: Creative writing, fiction, narration, philosophy
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.17870/bathspa.00001492
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2013 13:09
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2023 13:30
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/1492
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