English 4011:  Advanced Creative Writing: FictionFall 2007

Philosophy & Fiction

Brian Kiteley

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My office: SH, 487C My phone: 303-871-2898 Class meets: Wed 6-9:50 pm in SH 496 My email: bkiteley@du.edu My office hours: T W Th 4-5


NOTE:  This graduate fiction workshop is OPEN ONLY to fiction writers in the Ph.D. program in the English Department.


TEXTS:  Trust, Alphonso Lingis, University of Minnesota Press; The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, Richard Sennett, W. W. Norton & Company; Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow, Stanley Cavell, Belknap Press; The 3 AM Epiphany, Brian Kiteley, Writer's Digest Books.


Schedule of workshop


ABOUT THE EXERCISES:  I’ll ask you to write a handful of the exercises from The 3 AM Epiphany during the term.  We will also discuss the book as a teaching device.  Here are some new exercises for a follow-up book to The 3 AM Epiphany I’m writing.


ABOUT THE COURSE:  Alphonso Lingis mixes travel narrative and philosophy (and he is a very rare philosopher who uses straightforward story (as opposed to purposely odd and playful story) to explain and expand upon philosophy).  He practices something like philosophical travel essays, in which the travel is inextricably linked with (or at least interrupted by) the philosophizing.  In travel writing you walk or drive from one meaning to the next.  Lingis expands dramatically on this simple method.  Stanley Cavell mixes discussion of film, literature, and philosophy, with some beautiful discussion of Shakespeare, Henry James, and Fred Astaire.  Richard Sennett, a sociologist, mixes an examination of work with a kind of practical or applied philosophy.  Philosophy and fiction don’t go hand in hand, but the two can be fruitfully investigated together.  What is philosophy?  Does Philosophy require narrative?  Is great fiction necessarily philosophically sophisticated?  Are Melville, Stein, Kafka, Joyce, Woolf, Beckett, or DeLillo slyly philosophers?  Does one need to know a philosopher’s biography to understand his or her philosophy (does it matter, for instance, that J.L. Austin worked for MI6 during WWII)?  My father is a philosopher, and we’ve argued this last question a great deal over the years.  In this class, we will discuss some basic philosophical problems and the recent history of modern philosophy.  Plato and Aristotle talked quite a bit about philosophy and poetry; we’ll update that a bit.  In your fiction, I expect you to interweave philosophical problems somehow into your layers of narrative fabric.  Years ago, when my father first taught philosophy at San Jose State University, he ordered J. L. Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia.  The bookstore bought Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility instead.  He made do, as we will.


If you’re interested, Lingis is something of a phenomenologist and he spent his early career translating the great European philosophers Merleau-Ponty and Levinas.  Cavell is an aesthetic philosopher, sometimes allied with the Angl0-American analytic philosophers, though he also seems to distance himself from them.  Sennett is a historian of thought, as well as a sociologist (and he has written two novels).  We’ll spend some time defining the terms of art of these disciplines.


ASSIGNMENTS:  You are each responsible for two 300-word critiques of each others’ work—meaning, you’ll write a critique of everybody’s work twice (of the three or four sets of writing everyone is producing).  Give me a copy of these critiques.  Bring these critiques to class the day of the discussion of your classmates’ work.


I will also ask you to write a brief essay on one of these three texts (300-500 words), which we’ll discuss toward the end of the term.


And, of course, you’ll write fiction in the class, your own on-going projects or new material generated by the exercises.  You will each submit four pieces of writing during the term (as well as the one exercise at the beginning).  Your piece can be any length, although I suggest you try to stay under 25 pages.  You may submit several smaller pieces.  It would be best if these works were not completely new material, but they should also be writing that hasn’t seen too many workshops.


BACKGROUND material on-line (you don’t have to read this stuff, but you might want to):


What is phenomenology?  What is analytic philosophy?  What are the differences between the two (also called Continental philosophy and linguistic philosophy)?  Here is the entire text of How to Do Things with Words, by J.L. Austin, and Henry James’s stories “The Jolly Corner” and “The Birthplace” (click on “text (HTML)”), which are all central to the chapters we’ll be reading in Cavell.


Schedule of workshop


Brian Kiteley's home page