September 18, 2005

In a world of facts and focus and quantitative measurement, in a world where context has been relegated to the "lesser" realm of the soon-to-be-exterminated subjective (but in which Nisbett finds this hierarchy itself subjective!): how much value is given to fiction anymore?

Me, I find no use for fiction, in the usual ways that people seem to care about fiction. I don't seek escapism, or thrills, or romance. I don't seek my creativity vicariously through other people's dreams (although I am delighted that people do have them!). I find surprisingly little passion for this in myself, surprisingly little caring that some detail was done one way and not another: which -- regardless of my degree of appreciation for the work -- excises me from most fan communities and almost all academic circles. Since I find little or no point in these things, I come up head-first against the question that has been eroding the foundations of the humanities ever since the purpose of education had first been twisted into serving economics: why humanities? Why, at all?

(Hint: the answer is not "Because I need a course in the humanities in order to graduate in my much more valuable degree programme" -- if for no other reason, then because this stopgap answer only raises a second question: "Why does a college or university consider a course in the humanities to be essential within the understanding of what 'being educated' means?")

In the sciences I find the attempt to quantify things by way of containing things, with the hope to eventually control things. In the social sciences, I find exactly the same but with human beings replacing things, to reduce what is human to within what can be quantified. But in the humanities, I find the echo of human possibility.

Thus the value I find in fiction is in its insights into life. (Why would I let fiction take me away from life?) What I focus on is the life insights the author gives me and how those insights are conveyed to the reader: and for that, yes, I examine detail. Beyond that, I couldn't care less about detail for its own sake.

Which, for me, makes the entire Harry Potter series adequate at best.

It seems magic has to be made more "magical", or else the audience simply won't accept it as being "magic". (This need may underlie choices such as the new urge to FX not only when necessary but wherever possible.) This, I suspect, rooted the sense of magic being displayed simply for the sake of being displayed. Could not the magic shops and railroad platform have equally well coexisted directly with the mundane world? Why must we have hovering candles in the dining hall? Would not chandeliers or wall brackets have served as well? -- but then, they would not be "magical".

As a society, we may have lost the ability to see magic in the everyday.

In these sanitised Dickens novels, complete with mysterious circumstances of birth and extreme characters terrifying and oddball and humorous (with the thematic metaphor of magic substituting exactly for money): it would then become, not after all magic for its own sake, but display and use of magic as expression of breeding, with true nobility always shining through. Curiously, Dickens' novels marked the last time that public and critical taste juxtaposed.

It also occurs to me that the Dickensian novels foreshadowed the end of Empire ...

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