• 0 thru 9
    Hello! Thought it might be interesting and fun to dive into the subject of Philosophical fiction. Which could possibly include a wide range of artistic formats: novels, short stories, plays, movies, tv shows. (And someone could possibly make a case for a song or poem). Off the bat, I see at least three subtopics that spring to mind:

    1.) Your lists of favorite and/or personally influential philosophical fiction or characters. What works shaped you and your thinking? Which work's ideas still hit you like a ton of bricks (in a good way)?
    You could rank them or just list them. You could list them chronologically, by genre, or alphabetically. Or perhaps like the character did in the movie High Fidelity with his albums: biographically. :D

    2.) The nature of philosophy being turned into a different form, ideas being made "flesh and blood" (so to speak). Does this make them more powerful, more concrete, and ultimately more accessible? Does it water down the philosophical source material, and waste effort on character development and other dramatic necessities? I included a wide range of artistic formats/media. Is there one that has been omitted? The various media of a work of philosophical fiction are vastly different in many ways. A novel being different from a movie being different from a play. Taking for example the play No Exit by Sartre, it produces varied responses depending on if one reads it or views a stage production of the same material.

    That aside, i give equivalent weight, so to speak, to these various formats that the artist(s) use to present the ideas within. In other words, regarding the dramatization of "ideas", books are not necessarily better than TV shows for example (annoying commercials aside). It is mostly a matter of preference, imho. But that could be a topic for discussion. For example, most of the time when it comes to "serious and deep" novels being made into movies, i end up preferring the original written material. But there are exceptions. I love Contact by Carl Sagan. But to me the movie hit harder and deeper for some reasons. Herman Melville's short novel Billy Budd, Sailor is a classic, but the 1962 movie dramatizes the ethical dilemmas even more sharply, to me at least. The Lord of the Rings movies arguably have flaws, and the novels are, to paraphrase John Lennon, "more popular than the Bible". O:) But at least the movies have helped me figure out what the heck was going on! No small feat.

    One could argue whether the examples given above (or others) even qualify as philosophical fiction. That could lead to an interesting conversation. As well as the question of "what defines a work to be philosophical fiction?" Wikipedia says:

    Philosophical fiction refers to the class of works of fiction which devote a significant portion of their content to the sort of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy. These might include the function and role of society, the purpose of life, ethics or morals, the role of art in human lives, and the role of experience or reason in the development of knowledge. Philosophical fiction works would include the so-called novel of ideas, including some science fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and the Bildungsroman.

    And btw, I would totally lean towards including material with a religious and/or spiritual theme of various points of view. The above mentioned Contact is an example. The Brothers Karamozov and Ben-Hur being others. Movies like The Passion of the Christ or Little Buddha? You decide!

    3.) And perhaps most importantly... a discussion of the particular ideas presented. This probably goes without saying. But the ideas are central to the works in question. So let's discuss the ideas, themes, positions of our favorite books and movies... whatever they may be!

    Ok go! (still working on my list).
  • 0 thru 9
    Just a couple to start with...
    Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The premier step by step case study of a righteous soul slipping into self-righteousness then degrading into madness, finally becoming a murderer. In today's world, he would have been a terrorist. But after much torment, he confesses all and becomes a human again in a Siberian prison camp with the help of Sonya, perhaps the purest prostitute ever. Read it in high school and it set me off into Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Camus, which were all most helpful and inspiring despite their somber natures.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Like Dostoevsky's novel, this is a class in ethics in reverse- what not to do, despite it seeming so right, so controllable. The drinks are flowing almost as quick as the dialogue Wilde gives Dorian's hero, Lord Henry. The slide from innocent Adonis to vile Lucifer is slow but irreversible. He is the eternally young proto-vampire, prowling London's dark streets looking for victims similar to Jack the Ripper, who was at-large shortly before this was written. But there will be no redemption like Rodon Raskolnikov's for Mr. Gray. Only a spiral of murders, culminating in his own, by his favorite person- himself. A chillingly beautiful work of great depths.
  • Noble Dust
    For me:

    Notes From Underground by Dostoesvky. I was a clueless, impressionable college freshman when I read this in Honors English. It seriously fucked up my blissful, conservative Christian world. Our prof was notorious for giving terrible grades (to these students who thought of themselves as "honors" students), and looking back, he was actually right. Most of the students didn't actually want to engage with the difficult material he gave us; they weren't writing papers that actually engaged the material. He always said "I want you to learn how to think clearly". Anyway, Notes is kind of an exposition of self-consciousness within the context of the ever-increasingly impersonal modern world. It's the individual versus society; the Underground Man detests society but desperately hates himself for his inability or unwillingness to engage with it. Or at least, that's what I remember from it. I need to re-read it.

    The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. This is my favorite novel. It's utter genius, but you'll either love it or hate it. The philosophical aspects are hard to explain without basically giving away the story. What I love about this book is how many different ways you can interpret it. It's clear that, as a Christian, Chesterton is illustrating what he sees as the virtues of order and religion, versus what he sees as the self-refuting nihilism of anarchy (a real political movement at the time). But there's some truly beautiful surrealism and an addictive nightmare-quality to the entire narrative which pre-dates surrealism as an artistic movement. You can also interpret the narrative as a kind of "turning-inside-out", where surface appearance gives way to true reality. It almost has a mystical quality to it. There's also some totally confounding ways to interpret how Chesterton portrays God. And I almost forgot, the novel is also absolutely hilarious (if you've read any Chesterton, then you know what I mean).

    Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. This is Lewis's last and greatest fiction work. It's just pulsating with sorrow and regret and spiritual ennui. It's a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, told from the perspective of Psyche's ugly older sister Orual. Nothing like anything else he wrote. Again, without giving up the key plot points, this is probably the deepest interrogation into the nature of The Divine that I've read in fiction form. It was a transformational read for me. "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words."

    Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot. This is a long-form poem, about 60 pages or so. Not fiction. It's Eliot's masterpiece, to me. Not quite as arcane as The Wasteland. You really just need to read it, slowly, several times, over the course of a few years, preferably out loud. Only in sittings as long as you're able to ingest the words. I'm still slowly beginning to understand this poem, and I probably will continue to study it for the rest of my life.

    “So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
    Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres-
    Trying to use words, and every attempt
    Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
    Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
    For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
    One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
    Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
    With shabby equipment always deteriorating
    In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
    Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
    By strength and submission, has already been discovered
    Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
    To emulate - but there is no competition -
    There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
    And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
    That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
    For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
  • 0 thru 9

    Thanks very much for your reply and suggestions! Was not familiar with Chesterton's novel, but i will try to get ahold of it and give it a go. Seems intriguing. Love Notes From Underground. It seems like the Shakespearen comedy version of the main character of the tragic Crime and Punishment. The same ideas are there though, and the same exploration of a sensitive young intellectual's inner polemicist, if not extremist. Had read enough of C.S. Lewis to be not very hungry for more. But your description of his last novel makes it seem interesting and worth investigation. Profound quote there about questions and the battle of words. Could be a personal motto concerning internet posting! :D . And similarly, thanks for the TS Eliot poem. Maybe if some philosophy were written in poetic form, perhaps it would be both broader, and paradoxically, in sharper focus. Just speculating.

    Thanks again! Share more if you can. :)
  • T Clark
    My favorite poet is Robert Frost, not least because he is also the most philosophical poet I know. Favorite poem - The Black Cottage. Favorite verse:

    For, dear me, why abandon a belief
    Merely because it ceases to be true.
    Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt
    It will turn true again, for so it goes.
    Most of the change we think we see in life
    Is due to truths being in and out of favour.
    As I sit here, and oftentimes, I wish
    I could be monarch of a desert land
    I could devote and dedicate forever
    To the truths we keep coming back and back to.

    The rest of the poem is a setup for this conclusion - a straightforward story about a mother, her sons, and a minister. That's how many of his poems work - a prosaic story of people talking, working, and living together with a quick punch to the gut at the end. That's how all good essays, much good truth, works. A focus on plain, specific, concrete details followed, sometimes unexpectedly, by a broader truth illustrated by what comes before.

    Other good philosophical poems by Frost - Two Tramps at Mudtime, Wild Grapes, West Running Brook, The Death of the Hired Hand.
  • 0 thru 9

    Thanks. Good stuff! (Y)
  • 0 thru 9
    Of all the movies i have enjoyed over and over, Spartacus resides at the very top. Just a profound film, with brilliant acting and lots of twists and thrills thrown in. Maybe not absolutely historically accurate (the real Spartacus had learned his tactics as a Roman soldier), but any additions and liberties make it even better. As far as its philosophical themes, it is a little difficult to pin down what they are exactly. The ideas are subtle, but strong. Maybe a combination of Stoicism (which was current during the time period) and Existentialism. Spartacus's dialogue with an agent offering them an escape from Italy:
    Tigranes Levantus: If you looked into a magic crystal, you saw your army destroyed and yourself dead. If you saw that in the future, as I'm sure you're seeing it now, would you continue to fight?
    Spartacus: Yes.
    Tigranes Levantus: Knowing that you must lose?
    Spartacus: Knowing we can. All men lose when they die and all men die. But a slave and a free man lose different things.
    Tigranes Levantus: They both lose life.
    Spartacus: When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That's why he's not afraid of it. That's why we'll win.

    Also, an element of ethics runs through the film, inevitably focusing on slavery. One cannot help but feel the injustice. We are there as the slave Spartacus hauls rocks, and in gladiator school where he is forced to fight to the death. It is his foe in that match, Draba, who refused to kill the fallen Spartacus, and rather attacks the larger and Roman foe Crassus. In so doing, loses his life. But he planted the seeds of rebellion, which soon begins and doesn't end for nearly a year of slave victories. And the final scene, Spartacus being crucified with his wife Virinia and son at his feet, cannot help but recall Jesus on the cross. "Was he a god?!?" Laurence Olivier's Crassus mockingly asked Virinia at one point.
    "No" she said. "But on the day he died, thousands would have gladly died in his place." True enough, his comrades all forfeited freedom and proclaimed "I'm Spartacus!"
  • T Clark

    [1] Groundhog Day - As good a metaphor for spiritual growth as anything I've seen. Funny and finally very moving. "I'm not the God, I'm a god.

    [2] Fargo - The daily battle between good and evil with a heavy Midwest accent.

    [3] The Truman Show - A desperate struggle for truth ending with the courage to drop everything you've ever believed about the world.
  • Cavacava
    Thinking of Parmenides
  • 0 thru 9
    The Last Unicorn. Both the original novel/fable by Peter Beagle and the wonderfully adapted musical film touch on themes that seem to reach the core of the human experience. To paraphrase the quote about history: Those that do not learn from the Archetypes are bound to be controlled by them.
    To me, the movie is transcendent and immanent, real and unreal all at once. It seems to be a whisper from paradise, or from our lost history. Love Christopher Lee's King Haggard. Similar to his portrayal of Sauromon, the voice of doom is given proper weight and almost Shakespearen tragic beauty.

  • 0 thru 9
    Just watched the movie The Prestige again recently. I am not exactly sure what films would make my top 10 metaphysical movies, but this one would be near the top. Ruining the surprises of this deep exploration of the psyche might be a ban-able offence, so I will not reveal any spoilers here lest I be sawed in half. The movie is technically about magicians and magic shows, but thematically goes deeper than magic (if such is possible). The nature of one’s identity, of sacrifice, of envy and competition, of illusion and “reality”, of obsession and madness, are all expertly explored. Like another brilliant film, The Lion in Winter, it has truly comic moments, and stops just short of being a tragedy... or perhaps on second thought it doesn’t.

    Great acting performances by just about everyone on screen. Memorable lines, too. Like David Bowie (as Nikolae Tesla): “You see Mr. Angier, exact science... is not an exact science.” And the constant refrain by Christian Bale’s Alfred Bordan: “Are you watching closely?”

    When one watches this movie for the first time, I wager the most common response at the end is to watch it again right away. And much more closely.
  • 0 thru 9
    I :heart: Huckabees. Darn funny and metaphysical film. How often can you say that?

    Some dialogue:

    Mrs. Hooten: Albert, what brought you to the philosophical club?
    Albert Markovski: You mean the existential detectives?
    Mr. Hooten: Sounds like a support group.
    Cricket: Why can't he use the church?
    Mrs. Hooten: Sometimes, people have additional questions to be answered.
    Cricket: Like what?
    Albert Markovski: Well, um, for instance: if the forms of this world die, which is more real, the me that dies or the me that's infinite? Can I trust my habitual mind, or do I need to learn to look beneath those things?

    Vivian Jaffe: You live all the time with things you can't see. You can't see electricity, can you? You can't see radio waves, but you accept them.
    Bernard Jaffe: Trust.
    Albert Markovski: Fuck trust!
    Bernard Jaffe: You better stay away from Caterine, Albert, 'cause she's gonna lead you down the path of darkness.
    Vivian Jaffe: She was our prize graduate student until she went astray.
    Albert Markovski: No, I think that I am going to stay with her, and the cracks and the pain and the nothingness, because THAT's more real to me, THAT's what I feel.
    Tommy Corn: Word.
    Bernard Jaffe: Okay, we're not sweatin' it.
    Vivian Jaffe: No, we're gonna work with Brad.
    Bernard Jaffe: It'll all come back to you and interconnection.
    Albert Markovski: Brad? Are you kidding me? I'm gonna work on that prick and it's all gonna come to pain and no connection!
    Bernard Jaffe: No.
    Tommy Corn: It's on.

    :lol: and many more like that. Good stuff.
  • Bitter Crank
    I haven't read anything by Herman Hesse for a long time (decades). It seems to me that he may possibly have included some philosophical material in his novels, maybe.

    Ecclesiastes is an unusual philosophical poem, given its content and location in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Potently discouraging to the person who thinks he or she knows how to play the game and win.
  • 0 thru 9
    On The Waterfront. An examination of ethics that is very moving, engrossing, and entertaining all at the same time. It presents a landscape which is both harsh and fascinating. The movie unravels in its own little world, but reflects our here-and-now. We all have to take care of ourselves, that is a simple fact of life. If we don’t take care of ourself, someone else has to. So better and simpler to do what is necessary oneself as much as possible. But where does “taking care of oneself” become “taking away from others”? When does that concern cross the line from theoretical to transgression, even crime? Well, murder is hard to rationalize away even though some of the characters in this movie try diligently to: “Hey! This guy was impeding my cash flow! That guy squealed to the cops! Knock him off!” The bad guys here are as rotten as maggoty garbage. But as a performance, Lee J. Cobb’s Johnny Friendly is a force of nature. He growls and barks and is the roaring engine of the movie, a one-man hurricane. And on the “good side”, Eva Marie Saint’s character roars as well, with wounded pain seeking some kind of justice.

    What do you do if you’re caught in the middle? You don’t want to go along with murderers, but you naturally don’t want to be a victim either. Caught in the gears, being suffocated and slowly crushed.
    Words sometimes are empty and hollow, maybe well-intentioned, but not much more than a wide but shallow mud puddle. But when the stakes are high, every word and syllable can be critical. One word could be life or death. When the character Father Barry gives his take on the whole tangled situation, standing in the glass of shattered whiskey bottles next to the bloody body of the latest victim, he is gambling with his comfort, safety, even his life. That gives his words a tangible reality which cuts through the air, and slices through the toxic trash:

    And of course... THAT scene... the pivotal point of the movie. And one of the most memorable and quoted scenes ever. What might get overlooked is that it is Charlie’s redemption. Not a feel good moment for him. Not an “AHA!” moment. More like “I’m a goner”. But he pulls a last minute U-turn that saves his soul, even at the price of his life. It’s near impossible to swim with the Great White sharks and live for very long. Like Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, it was a far, far better thing he did than he had ever done.

  • tinman917
    I like this:
    More amusing than profound I suppose.
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