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Martha Nussbaum FICTIONS OF THE SOUL* Gertrude says, "O Hamlet speak no more. / Thou turnst mine eyes into my very soul." He made her see her soul, then, with a speech. And many types of speeches try to do what Hamlet did here. They present us with accounts or pictures of ourselves, attempting to communicate to us some truth about what we really are — or (to use what is already a certain sort of picture) to show us die insides of our human souls. These truths about ourselves are delivered in many different styles and forms: some through structured argument, some through more devious or more violent strategies. One distinguished thinker compared his discourse about the nature of the soul to dry translucent shafts of sunlight diat disperse the dark shadows of false belief. Another represents the recipient of a true account of the inside of her soul as crying out in pain: "These words like daggers enter in my ears." Clearly there ought to be connections between the way a drinker or writer conceives of the soul and the way he or she constructs a discourse to convey important trudis to such a soul — including, and especially, the truth about the nature of the soul. Whether we are to be approached with sunbeams or with daggers, whether we need light or violent motion to show us what we are: this seems to depend upon what, in fact, we are. On the answer to questions such as: Are our souls transparent? opaque? open? thick-skinned? And: is getting in touch with a human soul like shining light through a diamond? Like embracing a friend? Like drawing blood? To speak more prosaically, on die answers to questions such as: How does a soul arrive at truth? What elements does it have that promote and impede understanding? What is die subject matter or content of the most important truths about it? And in what sort of activity does knowing it consist? A story or account of die soul is, then, told. The telling, if the story is a good one, is not accidentally connected with the content of the told. And this * Editor's note: This article, as well as the contributions by Joseph Margolis, Félix MartínezBonati , and Sanford Freedman which follow it, grew out of a symposium on "Styles of Fictionality ," held at Harvard University in 1981. Other papers from that symposium appeared in the April, 1983 issue of Philosophy and Literature. 145 146PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE ought to be so whether die teller is a literary artist, whom we suppose always to be conscious of the nature of the stylistic choices, or a philosopher, whom we often think of as avoiding or eschewing style altogether. No stylistic choice can be presumed to be neutral — not even the choice to write in a flat or neutral style. My aim in this article is to begin working on the complicated connections between a view of what a human soul is and a view about how to address that sort of soul in writing, in die communication of die view.1 I have chosen two very different views, associated with two extremely different styles. One will be an intellectualistic view of die person, expressed in a style commonly associated widi philosophical writing; the other, expressed in a literary narrative, will be severely critical of intellectualism. The philosophical view is associated with a harsh criticism ofliterary art, the literary view widi an equally harsh criticism of philosophical investigation. In each case, I want to ask how the story that is told engages, in the telling, widi the reader's soul, and how the telling and the told are matched. I have chosen two extremes not because I wish to suggest diat these positions somehow express the essence of the philosophical or the literary, but because diey speak to and criticize one another in an illuminating way. By seeing their opposing elements starkly and schematically set out, we will be in a better position, should we wish to, to imagine an alternative between them. My philosophical protagonist will be Plato — or certain aspects of Plato; the literary opponent will be Proust. I shall, in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 145-161
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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