How to Do Things with Fictions

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OUP USA, Aug 23, 2012 - Literary Criticism - 250 pages
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Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why does Plato's Socrates make bad arguments? Why do we root for criminal heroes? In mummy movies, why is the skeptic always the first to go? Why don't stage magicians even pretend to summon spirits any more? Why is Samuel Beckett so confusing? And why is it worth trying to answer questions like these? Witty and approachable, How to Do Things with Fictions challenges the widespread assumption that literary texts must be informative or morally improving to be of any real benefit. It reveals that authors are often best thought of not as entertainers or as educators but as personal trainers of the brain, putting their willing readers through exercises that fortify their mental capacities. This book is both deeply insightful and rigorously argued, and the journey delivers 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 we can sustain our beliefs even when we suspect them to be illusions; and more. Perhaps best of all, though, the book is written with uncommon verve and a light touch that will satisfy the generally educated public and the specialist reader alike. In How to Do things with Fictions, Joshua Landy convincingly shows how the imaginative writings sitting on our shelves may well be our best allies in the struggle for more rigorous thinking, deeper faith, greater peace of mind, and richer experience.

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Another reviewer said the book was unreadable. I can't say that this was my experience. I found the book to be a really grounded, refreshing and comprehensive look at how people have answered the question "what is the value of fiction?" His own "formative" readings definitely tend to be interested with the more subtle and sophisticated things "we can do with fictions," which can be a bit frustrating at times, but it is for this same reason that they are great! 


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About the author (2012)

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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