On Literature & Philosophy Part 1 [15 Minute Insights]

On Literature & Philosophy Part 1 [15 Minute Insights]



this is Brian kemple of continuum philosophical insight today we're gonna take 15 minutes to talk about literature and philosophy if you want to know more about me who I am and the work I do there are some important links below now today I am starting a new series of 15-minute insights devoted to the topic of literature and philosophy I'm not yet sure how many videos there will be as I'm exploring several ideas I've had but only sketched them out very roughly I can Ken say that there will be at least three related videos for three related ideas including the one today but the first among these ideas and the focus of today's 15 minute insight is the concept of literature itself that is what do we really mean by the word literature what comes to mind for me at least I would assume for many others are the classics as presented in print books the things we read in those college courses called literature Dickens and Tolstoy the Bronte sisters Dostoyevsky and Dante and Evelyn law and and so on and so forth especially if you picture them with fine leather bindings and gold leaf edges but while this might be what we mean by literature in the proper sense the term is easily extended for literature is the most deeply ingrained medium of storytelling in the history of Western civilization and goes all the way back to the writing down of homers epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey and is still something continued on today however in recent decades of course television and film have displaced the written word as the most common medium work most common media for story seeking audiences nevertheless I think literature retains its place as sort of the the archetype or the principle of our storytelling approach so deeply that the story constructing aspects of our moving pictures retain inherent connection to the literary not only in that Hollywood steals many of its ideas from books but in the foundational notions of both television and film by and large or the same as they are in writing a book it's not to say that screenwriting and book writing or novel writing are the same thing or can be done in exactly the same way but they rely on the same principles which have been established in novel writing or literary writing for quite a long time so to get at the roots of literature is in a way to get at the roots of all our storytelling that there are profound differences in the various storytelling media and as differences between how we read a story and how we watch or listen to a story this does not a face the equally profound similarities in their constitutions in a later video I will examine the differences in commonalities explicitly but today I wants to look instead as the roots of storytelling and why they are important for us as human beings which is to say what is the personal importance of these storytelling roots and these storytelling medium now oftentimes when I think of literature and its effect on me personally I think of Graham Greene's short novel the end of the affair I've read many of Graeme Greene's works and third they're all very interesting and I'm not sure that I would say the end of the affair is the best of them in fact really if it comes down to the sheer force of a story I probably like the power and the glory better but the end of the affair is one which has stuck with me in a rather personal way it's a book I highly recommend and it's one which has twice been adapted by Hollywood both times I would say as a failure and it's a story that focuses around a single theme namely the tight connection between love jealousy and hate so to give us a briefest spoiler free synopsis the protagonist maurice bendrix who is himself a novelist in the story and therefore is understood to be sort of standing in the place of Graham Greene himself as an affair with the wife of a neighbor named Sarah miles Sarah's husband is a bureaucratic functionary in the government and he's a rather dull uninteresting person kind but a bit obtuse one day Sarah breaks off the affair kind of quietly with no explanation and for no reason that bendrix can fathom and he becomes consumed with jealousy and even a kind of hate for Sarah the story itself begins after the affair has ended and is written through partial recollection of their trysts and certain present day pursues bendrix becomes convinced that she has moved on to another lover and finds his inability to possess her to be a cause for hating her and for hating the unknown lover no matter how mature he tries to be about it even while the affair was going on he has a certain sort of a jealous hatred and a very minor way for for Sarah's husband because he in some way possesses her that bendrix doesn't but he's more concerned with the sexual aspect of saying this I mean after all if she were married to one man but sleeping with another that other man can't really be surprised if she is sexually unfaithful to him too you know can he and yet as bendrix demonstrates despite there being no justification for surprise that man can nevertheless be quite jealous and quite angry now this core theme of the book the tight connection between love jealousy and hate is one on which I could speak pretty great lengths from a philosophical perspective I could talk about the different ways in which we love some object object being set in the sense of a previous 50-minute insight or why we find an object lovable or how love is not merely a feeling had by an individual but rather a complex pattern of relations and because of that one small twist of that pattern and of disrupting the whole or I could talk about how jealousy stems from the beliefs that one deserves or is in the right in desiring some object which has been turned away from oneself especially because it has been taken by another because that is the possibility of possession has been denied and I can talk about how quickly that kind of jealousy turns into hatred for experience hatred or hate as a relation of anger at whatever we believe has prevented us from possessing the object that we desire but these detached abstract considerations and analyses while possibly helpful and informative and while they may deepen our understanding of our own emotions and struggles and so on are much like reading about wine which is to say that you don't really understand wine or how it affects you until you drink it no matter how much you have theoretically imbibed the knowledge about wines effects on the human body until you put alcohol in your body drink it consume it and in a sufficient quantity you really don't know what it is that it's gonna do and so can we really understand the love lust jealousy and hatred unless we experience them and how much of a trope is it in in all sorts of storytelling to have a character say that they thought they understood what love was but didn't really until they were in a relationship with so-and-so right well I think the same thing is true of jealousy and and probably even hatred lust is in some sense probably the most common of those and the one that everyone experiences sooner or later and most likely sometime in puberty but area I don't think we can understand these emotions these experiences unless we've experienced them ourselves though that is not to say that merely experiencing them will necessarily make us understand them either now jealousy in particular among the use emotions central to the end of the affair seems to be the most easily misunderstood and for one thing it is because it's very related to it and very alike to it often confused with envy which is specifically the desire for what another person possesses because of how that possession evidently elevates the person possessing it in other words we Envy our neighbors good looks nice car better house more attractive spouse and so on Envy is really at its root impersonal it doesn't matter who the neighbor is if we like or hate the neighbor we want their attributes for ourselves because we believe that those attributes grant that neighbor a higher standing than ourselves that they somehow make the neighbor better than we are jealousy on the other hand is always personal and is always more ever directed at interpersonal relations either their presence or their absence and quite frequently both think of any man jealous that a woman is with another man and I expected that most men have at some point or another experienced something like this that he is jealous that the relation he wants with the woman for himself is had by another we may be jealous that the woman we love loves another or we may be jealous that the woman we love has sex with another love as I said is a complex pattern of relations and to see the object of our love related to something or someone else in a way we believe integral to the pattern of experiencing love results in the arousal of jealousy and it hurts and jealousy is painful in that pain unless you have experienced that yourself is indescribable it does not matter if one describes it philosophically or in a literary format no description is adequate to the experience yet despite the inevitable inadequacy I think that literature does help us to know and perhaps recognize the pain of jealousy as it is experienced and indeed the experience of any emotion much more than philosophy does and if you have experienced jealousy that is you will recognize it much better in Grand Greens writing then you will in any philosophical description of it I may give even if my philosophical description is helpful for distinguishing what is or is not jealousy it cannot give an example as well as Graham Greene's end of the affair and therefore I would say that the book does a remarkable job of shedding light on the experience of jealousy and the hurt the anger the suspicion the confusion and even the hatred that follow from wishing another's interpersonal relation would be our own and ultimately in the end of the book this is you know again avoiding any spoiler it shows us also the typical small mindedness of the jealous person then most frequently our jealousy is somehow or another misdirected because we have not been loving the object of our emotions of our feelings in the proper way or because we have misunderstood our own relation to that object or how we should be disposed to the object this function showing us more clearly through the written word what we experience in ourselves and in the world at large is what historically has been called mimesis that is the imitation of representation of what is found in nature and human relations are absolutely something found in nature that there are particular branch of nature a cultural branch and entail all sorts of things which are purely natural as well but that's another issue altogether that this is a purpose of poetry or literature that is to exercise the mimetic function was a theory laid out by Aristotle in his poetics and it's an interesting text just to look through and go through in its own right but at the same time we have to question how you know how does a story not only represent found in natural reality or perhaps even through some sort of unnatural portrayal of things as real in science fiction but how does the story show that something more clearly than when seemed in itself put in Aristotelian terms mimesis literary mimesis exhibits the formal realities of things not in abstraction but in their dynamic interaction of action and passion of continual material alteration and contingency so green shows us jealousy not just as defined or as we might understand it generally and abstractly but as viscerally actual in personal experience at least as well as any one individual might relate something deeply personal and idiosyncratically experienced to another person but this presentation of the form of jealousy in the matter of dynamic action between characters is not all that is accomplished by it's a code nematic story for any given dynamism between form and matter and that is the changes and possibilities of changes which we observe is part of a pattern of relations and that pattern too is important for our mimetic recognition and consider the really good scene in the really absurd story there's something deficient in the mimesis of that story there might be a great moment a great dialogue a great monologue but if the story as a whole is not well patterned then there is something that fails in its presentation of reality so moreover there is there must be a relation between that pattern in which these forms and matter are presented and the audience which perceives and attempts to understand them the eye sees what eye brings means of seeing and the uneducated eye will see much less than TS Eliot's wastelands and the educated one just as the eye which has observed things through lens of jealousy will better perceive what is portrayed in Green's end of the affair then someone who has never felt that particular emotion we bear thereby identify that not only does literature through its own formal structure have a mimetic function such that as the literature's constituted so it will or will not adequately represent an intelligibility but literature always involves the thinking of the author and the receptivity of the audience all of which is to point towards what literature is that is we know a thing by knowing its functions and if we can recognize that these and perhaps others are the functions of literature we can get some idea as to the nature of literature now I deliberately choose the word nature here rather than essence or quiddity with a specific purpose in mind for each term nature essence and quiddity signifies the same thing but with different connotations and the connotation of nature is that each thing as it is has an orientation towards some end towards some further actuality which fulfills its purpose and what we can see from literature's function however briefly we have here looked at it is that its nature includes being instructive instructive that is about the human condition as lived and exemplified in characters and their actions this is not to save the literature must reinforce a moral code or that it has to quote have a good lesson rather good literature will invariably teach us something without trying to do so and usually trying to teach us something will not produce good literature and I think this is something that literature has in common with philosophy that it instructs not by imposing on a some a priori predetermined structure of truths but rather it shows to us from experience what is and so by the same token I think part of the danger of literature and of all storytelling in general is that it may be deceitfully persuasive just as a pursuit of wisdom may turn from a love of it to a claim of its possession and therefore turns from philosophy to surface tree so to the mimetic presentation of what is in nature may turn from a showing of what is to a showing of what is wished for now how literature and storytelling turns from the former to the latter is what I will try to show over the next two 15-minute insights starting with the effects of the medium and following that up with the relation between concepts and percepts as influenced by stories as always thank you for listening and subscribing and if you find these videos worth your time consider whether they might also be worth three dollars and 25 cents per month or really any amount or you know essentially the equivalent of an overpriced cup of coffee and if you think that they are maybe take a visit to my patreon page linked in the notes below thank you

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