I’m thinking perhaps I should take advantage of the categories in this software and separate my posts by subject, as with this post, where I simply want to babble about some academic books I’ve been reading, rather than world affairs or the many subtle intriacies of my navel.
I just finished The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne Booth, which, as you might guess from the title, examines fiction with a rhetorical lens. I don’t think I’d ever thought about authorial decisions in quite those terms before, save in a hazy, non-conceptual fashion, as in the way I thought about metaphor before reading Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By.
Probably the most impressive thing Booth does is confirm what I’d always suspected but never got around to proving at length; that the conventions of realism are just that, conventions – and rhetorical moves at that, with limited scope. I always got peeved when I took fiction classes as an undergraduate and realism was touted as the ultimate goal, when it’s just another box. To paraphrase a phrase Booth uses over and over, the writer cannot decide not to use rhetoric, only what kind; and I think that statement, to an extent, is a good beginning to validating all fiction genres as optional means of persuasion. And if you buy Aristotle’s general disregard of effect (as I think one must), then all the tools in the toolbox are doubly valid.
I’m thinking of science fiction in particular, of course. H and I watched A.I. the other day. She’d seen it, I hadn’t. Not my most favorite movie – too long and too Spielburgian – but it struck me in the first 15 minutes that a realistic work would have a hard time approaching Kubrick’s concept. A.I. wasn’t great sci-fi, but it had the right intentions, in that it was using the genre to approach a question that traditional fiction would have to do more mundanely, instead of just choosing a novel setting.
“What does it mean to be human?” and “What is love?” are common enough themes, but it’s an interesting move from a rhetorical standpoint to shift that question onto robots – and, further, onto a young robot – and further, onto a young robot that is all that remains of humanity.