Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 donâ€™t think Iâ€™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 Johnsonâ€™s Metaphors We Live By.
Probably the most impressive thing Booth does is confirm what Iâ€™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 itâ€™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 Aristotleâ€™s general disregard of effect (as I think one must), then all the tools in the toolbox are doubly valid.
Iâ€™m thinking of science fiction in particular, of course. H and I watched A.I. the other day. Sheâ€™d seen it, I hadnâ€™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 Kubrickâ€™s concept. A.I. wasnâ€™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.
â€œWhat does it mean to be human?â€ and â€œWhat is love?â€ are common enough themes, but itâ€™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.