How to Do Things with Fictions

How to Do Things with Fictions

3.88 (32 ratings by Goodreads)
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Why does Mark's Jesus speak in parables? Why does Plato's Socrates make bad arguments? Why are Beckett's novels so inscrutable? And why don't stage magicians even pretend to summon spirits anymore? In a series of captivating chapters on Mark, Plato, Beckett, Mallarme, and Chaucer, Joshua Landy not only answers these questions but explains why they are worth asking in the first place.

Witty and approachable, How to Do Things with Fictions challenges the widespread assumption that literary texts must be informative or morally improving in order to be of any real benefit. It reveals that authors are sometimes best thought of not as entertainers or as educators but as personal trainers of the brain, putting their willing readers through exercises designed to fortify specific mental capacities, from form-giving to equanimity, from reason to faith.

Delivering plenty of surprises along the way-that moral readings of literature can be positively dangerous; that the parables were deliberately designed to be misunderstood; that Plato knowingly sets his main character up for a fall; that metaphor is powerfully connected to religious faith; that we can sustain our beliefs even when we suspect them to be illusions-How to Do Things with Fictions convincingly shows that our best allies in the struggle for more rigorous thinking, deeper
faith, richer experience, and greater peace of mind may well be the imaginative writings sitting on our shelves.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 268 pages
  • 168 x 237 x 18mm | 404g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • UK ed.
  • 5 illus.
  • 0199378207
  • 9780199378203
  • 1,301,450

Table of contents

Table of Contents ; Acknowledgments ; INTRODUCTION ; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fiction ; Formative Fictions ; The Temporality of the Reading Experience ; In Spite of Everything, a Role for Meaning ; A Polite Aside to Historians ; The Value of Formative Fictions ; PART ONE-CLEARING THE GROUND ; Chapter One-Chaucer: Ambiguity and Ethics ; Prudence or Oneiromancy? ; A Parody of Didacticism ; Preaching to the Converted ; The Asymmetry of 'Imaginative Resistance' ; Virtue Ethics and Gossip ; Qualifications ; Positive Views ; PART TWO- ENCHANTMENT AND RE-ENCHANTMENT ; Chapter Two-Mark: Metaphor and Faith ; Rhetorical Theories ; Five Variables, Six Readings ; Deliberate Opacity ; The Vision of Mark ; From Him Who Has Not ; To Him Who Has ; The Syrophenician Woman ; The Formative Circle ; Metaphor and Faith ; Theological Ramifications ; A Parable about Parables ; Getting It Wrong By Getting It Right ; Coda: The Secular Kingdom ; Appendix: "Le Cygne" ; Chapter Three-Mallarme: Irony and Enchantment ; Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin ; Exorcisms and Experiments ; Science and Wonder ; Lucid Illusions ; Stephane Mallarme ; The Spell of Poetry ; Setting the Scene ; A Replacement Faith ; How to Do Things with Verses ; A Corner of Order ; The Magic of Rhyme ; A Training in Enchantment ; A Sequence of States ; The Birth of Modernism from the Spirit of Re-Enchantment ; PART THREE-LOGIC AND ANTI-LOGIC ; Chapter Four-Plato: Fallacy and Logic ; A Platonic Coccyx ; Ascent and Dissent ; The Developmental Hypothesis ; Dubious Dialectic ; Pericles, Socrates and Plato ; The Gorgias Unravels ; The Uses of Oratory ; Was Gorgias Refuted? ; Spiritual Exercises: Seven Points in Conclusion ; Appendix: Just How Bad is the Pericles Argument? ; Chapter Five-Beckett: Antithesis and Tranquillity ; Bringing Philosophy to an End ; Ataraxia ; Antilogoi ; One Step Forward ; Finding the Self to Lose the Self ; An Irreducible Singleness ; Res Cogitans ; Solutions and Dissolutions ; Two Failures ; "I confess, I give in, there is I" ; Negative Anthropology ; The Beckettian Spiral ; An End to Everything? ; Fail Better ; Glimpses of the Ideal ; Two Caveats ; Coda ; Works Cited
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Review quote

This book may be most valuable for its call to pedagogical reform. It would be helpful for revising the aims of broad world-lit surveys or humanities courses, or, indeed, for reframing almost any literature class. ...Landy's book also offers persuasive talking points for any defense of the liberal arts mission... His book is a good manual for training Landy's own readers in how to become formative teachers. * Ashley Barnes, Comparative Literature * Joshua Landy has no patience for the simple-minded moral didacticism that permeates recent literary theory and philosophy. Sure-footed and light-handed, he emphasizes the 'formative' rather than the 'informative' function of literary fiction. Eloquent, erudite, witty, and just as passionate, Landy has given us a new way of looking at the importance of fiction for life * a new and marvelous 'defence of poesy.' * What do we gain from reading fiction? Joshua Landy's brilliant new book advances a provocative answer with impressive verve, erudition, and insight. His discussion ranges from the New Testament to Plato, Mallarme, and Beckett, among many others. No reader will put down the book unaffected, or think of fiction in quite the same way again. * Charles L. Griswold, author of Self-Knowledge in Plato's Phaedrus * In this wonderfully engaging book, Joshua Landy writes against all of those (rather depressing) theories that argue for literary texts as guides for moral improvement, or as 'messages' for the reader. Instead, Landy identifies what he calls 'formative fiction' - literature that trains the reader in the act of reading itself - a compelling and refreshing study. * Francoise Meltzer, author of Seeing Double: Baudelaire's Modernity * This terrific book pulls no punches in engaging with scholarly debates, critiquing an array of knowledge-seeking approaches to fiction. Landy's constructive work, exemplified in the verve and affection with which he treats his 'formative fictions,' is persistently humane and practical, pressing us for openness to the vital exercise fictions offer. * Eileen John, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick * If we persist in reading complicated books for something more than their plot, Landy has at least given us a series of thoughtful and persuasive reasons for doing so. * The Guardian * It is rare to read a work in which the sense comes through so fully of what it must be like to sit in the author's classroom; in this case, it is clear that Stanford students enjoy an intellectual treat, one now available to many others...Essential. * Choice *
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About Joshua Landy

Joshua Landy is the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University, where he co-founded and co-directs the Initiative in Philosophy and Literature. He is author of Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust and coeditor, with Michael Saler, of The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age.
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Rating details

32 ratings
3.88 out of 5 stars
5 44% (14)
4 19% (6)
3 25% (8)
2 6% (2)
1 6% (2)
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