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Amgad Muhammad

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What's the point of novels?

All of us would agree that reading for facts and knowledge widens our perspective, but what does reading novels do?
Do we read novels for the sole purpose of entertaining ourselves or does it make us intelligent in some way?
How can one take lessons from a story that was made up and characters that do not exist?

Is reading novels just a waste of time? a sort of video game for those who like to read?


Topics: books

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    May 26 2013: I don't think I have a particularly comprehensive answer to the question but I can draw some aspects to the answer from experience. I study political science and the one thing I am invested in the field in is the reflection of political theory and political sociology (along with history, psychology and a host of other related disciplines) in novels. There's an hypothesis actually that in some contexts - like that of the Arab world - authors of novels are far more capable to translate the reality in their works than 'objective' political scientists and scholars. A major part of this has to do with the 'emotions'. While there has been a trend in humanities and social sciences lately to better understand 'emotions' and deconstruct them as text and context, the methodology is not yet crystallized and therefore the same study can result in paradoxical results. Novels on the other hand rely on the emotional response of the reader and they are therefore far more apt at deconstructing the emotional makeup of a group or phenomenon, be it political or otherwise. The problem however arises in the fact that in order to translate the author's dealing with emotions into something 'practical' so to speak, one would have to deconstruct the novel itself which usually butchers the art of it all. The beauty and brilliance of novels is interrelated, they are not separate. The brilliance of relation to emotions as well as objective theories,perspective or hypotheses is also the aesthetic beauty of a reader's attachment to the characters of the novel.
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      May 27 2013: What concerns me through out the 80+ comments so far is that some of you guys think that playing with emotions in a novel is a good thing as it makes the reader more absorbed in what the author is trying to convey. But you're also saying that novels help us see through an abstraction of what might have been or what might become. Isn't it a little worrisome that perhaps the view of things the author is providing is delusional and we don't even know it? That we're building conclusions and opinions on a work that puts emotions ahead of facts and objectivity?

      I find what you said about novelists being more objective at certain points very interesting. Perhaps they, even though not obliged, are more realistic than most of our political observers! Thanks Nadine for jumping in.
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        Jun 1 2013: I just have a question re your point on authors of novels being delusional: do you equate that with subjectivity or are they separate? i. e. would you call a political scientist who calls for an extreme ideology delusional despite their objective approach to the subject?

        And yes, I do believe that authors of novels are more realistic; I just don't think that necessarily has to mean that they are objective. In fact, I believe that part of why they manage most of the time to be so realistic is that they don't shy away from subjectivity and emotion; they don't treat them as obstacles to reaching, finding or describing the truth.
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          Jun 3 2013: 'Objective approach to the subject', how is that even possible :D ?

          I don't think I get your question. But if you're asking if being delusional and being subjective are the same, No. They're certainly not. But I can't rely on a 'subjective' narrative to build my opinions or else I'll be in 'delusion'.

          My point here is that YES novels can definitely tell us more about a certain view. But does it help us shape our own? Do we get cursed by the author's narrative and become unable to pick the side we would rationally go with?

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