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Monday, August 3, 2009

The "Episodics vs. Narrative" False Dichotomy, For Fiction As For Life (And Where Does Poetry Fit?)

Lee Siegel on the End of Episode Books and Novels -
Lee Siegel writes:

[E]pisodic fiction has been dealt a sorry hand of late. Our most popular critically acclaimed novels are pure narratives. Their straightforward storytelling style connects events together in one continuous thruline whose fundamental purpose is to reveal the Big Fated Meaning of life. In the war between Narratives and Episodics, the former are winning hands-down.

A few years ago, the British philosopher Galen Strawson took up those battling world views in an essay that caused quite a stir in philosophical circles—the distinction between Narratives and Episodics is, in fact, his. Mr. Strawson came down heavily on the side of the Episodics. He believes the idea that “human beings typically experience their lives as a narrative or story of some sort” is an insult to the endless possibilities of existence. What really gets his goat is the accompanying notion that you have to be a Narrative to be good, that “a richly Narrative outlook on one’s life is essential to living well, to true or full personhood.” In Mr. Strawson’s eyes, the idea that one’s life is a story is the equivalent of wearing a blindfold and living in a prison cell.

He has a strong point. Episodics do seem to have a firmer grasp of reality’s fluid nature. Rather than experiencing life as a continuous thread of related experiences, Episodics consider their “self” to be in a state of continuous flux. What happened to them a year ago happened to a different person than the person they are now—the past has no bearing on present experience. (“I actually said that? I couldn’t have!”) In this view, Episodics are sober, disenchanted beings, alive to the principle of ceaseless change that drives human existence.

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