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David Pole* LITERATURE AS PROPHECY: SARTRE'S NA USEA About things that really matter we can't communicate; we have at best ceremony and courtesy." I offer this dictum as a thing that needs saying, as something being widely believed or assumed. I mean less to endorse than explore it. I shall distinguish between philosophers and prophets; also, a partly overlapping and connected distinction, between practitioners of logic and persuasion. Of the former, examples will be Aristotle, Descartes, and G. E. Moore; of the latter, Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. The two enterprises still share common ground or rather, more accurately, they dispute it. For both sorts of thinker lay claim to truth and seek to induce conviction in readers; hence both, whether overtly or implicitly, are bound to be controversial and polemical. We are met with views that conflict and compete. Thus as to the nature of the mind, it is impossible that Descartes and Hume should be equally in the right; nor as to the significance of Christianity both Pascal and Nietzsche. Where the two enterprises precisely differ is of course in their method or style. Philosophers, as I use the term, set store by rigor and precision; they proceed characteristically by such methods as deduction and analysis. Alternatives are defined and eliminated, or the reader is maneuvered from some starting point to conclusions he is bound to accept by a series of definite steps, for both the premises and the intervening steps are meant to be seen as self-evident. The latter is the method explicitly championed by Descartes. But as for the writers I call prophets, their methods are harder to characterize or find one general term to describe. Like philosophers, to repeat, they seek conviction; but in other ways they rather resemble poets 'Editor's note: David Pole, who for many years taught philosophy at King's College, University of London, died in 1977. This article was originally presented at a conference on philosophy and literature held at the University of Warwick in 1974. We gratefully acknowledge the kind assistance of Martin Warner of the University of Warwick in making it available to us. 33 34Philosophy and Literature or imaginative novelists. They seek chiefly, one may say, to reveal; to force on us some sort of vision or point of view which will change for us the aspect of objects. Of course what I have sketched here are ideal types. Most prophets, perhaps all of them, make occasional use of argument; all philosophers necessarily use "persuasion" (in the sense I have given the word). The broad difference still seems tolerably plain. But secondly among novelists, too, one may distinguish two sorts: there are those who are, at least relatively speaking, "pure novelists," for example, Stendhal or Fielding, and those in whose hands we see the novel become equally a vehicle of prophecy, for example, Dostoyevsky or Lawrence. (I speak for convenience of novelists: of dramatists and poets the same holds.) Every novelist doubtless has his own values and views which embody themselves in his work; these, implicitly at least, he seeks to validate. Indeed I have known critics for whom it would seem that they do nothing else; a novel—or good novel, at least so far as we are to count it as good—serves to show us things, to show and to substantiate that significant vision. Different novels differ, of course; but they present aspects on this view that merely diverge, rather than conflict. The inference would appear to be this, that all harmonize within some greater unity. It seems that Hegel should be living at this hour, for literary criticism has need of him. In some such vast, all-embracing system, with a similarly elastic dialectic, too (as it will need to be), all these partial views will be unified and contained. But meanwhile, if you say so, you live on faith. And here it is not something I mean to argue. To me it seems plain that one can admire literature, and admire it legitimately as literature, while dissenting from the standpoint it presents. Indeed, you need a pretty deep indoctrination in English critical thought of the present century before you lose...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 33-48
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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