Casuistry: From Ayesha to Ted Cruz

imagesWe all run across words when we’re reading that are familiar enough to accept unconsciously whatever vague idea we have of what they actually mean … and keep on reading without hardly a pause. Now we have digital books and if a word pops up that we are curious about, a couple of quick taps and the dictionary definition is in an adjunct window. If we are still curious (or befuddled), another tap takes us to the internet withe the word in question already discovered in many many websites.

The other day I ran into this passage while reading H. Rider Haggard’s She:

I felt it was hopeless to argue against casuistry of this nature, which, if it were carried to its logical conclusion, would absolutely destroy all morality, as we understand it.

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Top Contemporary Authors

About.com is a huge hairy web destination where you can find information on just about any subject, learn a new language, add to you cooking prowess, or find fun tips and shortcuts to enrich your life. Like Wikipedia, you can spend hours and learn a lot just poking around the various pages but be cautious at both sites, the old adage is still true: just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true.

AboutI find sites like this are useful to stimulate thinking and to offer an entry into all sorts of interesting subjects that I can expand upon with further reading, online and off. One specific use I make of Wikipedia is as a sort of footnote depository for my reading. Although usable when reading paper and ink books, the real advantage of these reference sites is when reading digital books. I have linkages set up so that I can rapidly expand references, look up word definitions, or just learn more about the author and her/his world, with just a touch or click. It brings a new dimension and a fully understanding to reading, and that ain’t bad.

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Captain Fiction

“I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme.” — John Hawkes

LishI agree with Hawkes. Literature, especially as taught in Junior High English classes, is too important to insist on those archaic unities. Plots went out with I Love Lucy where Desiderio Arnaz clearly demonstrated that there were only three plots known to man, the rest being variations masking as variety. Character is hard to avoid but the classic importance of character development is easy to forget (no, you do not need to identify or fall in love with one of the characters). Setting is only important when the writer needs to bolster his narrative with a setting which evokes themes he (or she) is incapable of evoking himself. Do we need themes? Not really. I suspect the development of thematic fiction was good but it risked falling easily into didactic fiction and that is bad.

I might say that everything is thematic: the boy and girl theme, the levels of fiction theme, the remembrance of things past theme, the talking dog at the end of the world theme. The problem with themes is that they, like plots, get repeated a lot and no amount of variation hides a tired old theme.

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