Tag Archives: philosophical views in sophie’s world

Revisal of the Shittest

“I believe imagination is like a Darwinian system.”

sock monkey image from cthulhufhtagn.deviantart.com

In the above quotation from the novel Sophie’s World (which I finally got through a week ago), Alberto Knox—the story’s philosopher—discusses with Sophie the nature of creativity and how it follows the natural selection of Darwinism:

“Thought-mutants occur in the consciousness one after the other, at least if we refrain from censoring ourselves too much.  But only some of these thoughts can be used.  Here, reason comes into its own.  It, too, has a vital function.  When the day’s catch is laid on the table we must not forget to be selective.”

Oh, that Alberto and his way with analogies…sorry, can’t help being sarcastic toward this book. Disregarding the tremendous education on philosophy it provides (which in itself is good reason to read the novel, and I’m glad that I did), it’s the fictional aspect of the plot that pricked into my skin like so many fleas in my fur. An interesting attempt to provide an entertaining means of digesting large concepts and history, the fictitious story line that distinguishes this as a “novel” versus “textbook” fell a little flat for me. The dialogue was unbelievably forced (most of Sophie’s comments/questions simply served as breaks or segues in the long lectures), and though it takes an interesting twist mid-way through, the characters and thin plot just didn’t endear themselves. Quite frankly, I found Sophie to be a precocious little twit. But I digress…

In any case, what he’s getting at here is that imagination generates the ideas, but reason weeds out the “mutants” and selects the best ones to carry on.  The plot twist in the book also ushered in some self-reflexive commentary on writing and the manipulative power the writer has over those ideas, settings, and characters in his/her charge. As far as the creative process in general, Alberto continues to say (with another analogy in practically the same breath as the first…):

“Maybe the imagination creates what is new, but the imagination does not make the actual selection.  The imagination does not ‘compose.’ A composition—and every work of art is one—is created in a wondrous interplay between imagination and reason, or between mind and reflection.  For there will always be an element of chance in the creative process.  You have to turn the sheep loose before you can start to herd them.”

This “wondrous interplay” is what laboriously polishes our inspired first drafts into final manuscripts. It’s what also keeps us in check so we don’t overly pillage our paragraphs of the words and thoughts that breathe soul into them; all too often, reason defeats imagination when there should instead be a balance of power.

Unlike the negligent Dr. Frankenstein, however, we do need to be mindful of what we bring into being. Our stories inspire us, they speak to us, they surprise us, yes, but they also rely on us to nurture and shape them, to help find a suitable place in the world for them. It’s still essential to follow the writing rules so we don’t feed our stories after midnight or get them wet, thereby leaving the sweet Mogwais of our imagination to metamorphose into Gremlins of loose redundancy and holes. That said, I don’t mean to be harsh on our uncensored minds, and perhaps my title isn’t fair in calling our first drafts “shit”…but far be it from me to pass up a good rhyme, and, anyways, sometimes they just really are ;).  (I think Sophie’s World, for example, might’ve benefited from another read-through…)

Serendipitously, at the same time as I’d read the chapter quoted here and mulled over this intellectual tightrope, Tahlia (author of Lethal Inheritance who blogs on the site of same name) posted “Do we write a story or uncover it?“—here, she asks how much we write using our rational intellect versus not thinking and just going with the flow.  It seems we universally tread this fine line, leaving us with this:  To think or not to think…that is the question when it comes to the evolution of our story.

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What Happens in a Meadow at Dusk?

“[L]ong before the child learns to talk properly—and long before it learns to think philosophically—the world will have become a habit.  A pity, if you ask me.”  – Sophie’s World

I’m currently reading a book that I’ve had sitting on my bookshelf for years.  I literally moved it across an ocean two years ago, and still it had sat mutely, patiently, until I finally plucked it out and cracked it open a few days ago:  Sophie’s World.  I’m only a quarter of the way through it, so will withhold offering a critique, but so far I’m enjoying the questions it raises—it’s essentially taking your own correspondence course in philosophy, without getting graded 🙂    Less than twenty pages in, I was struck by the above quotation…I hadn’t really reflected on how the world becomes a “habit” as we age:

“The world itself becomes a habit in no time at all.  It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world.  And in doing so, we lose something central—something philosophers try to restore.  For somewhere inside ourselves, something tells us that life is a huge mystery.  This is something we once experienced, long before we learned to think the thought.”

At this point, the “philosopher” instructing our protagonist, Sophie, has been pointing out how infants and young children look about at everything surrounding them with wonder, getting excited about even the little things we adults come to take for granted through familiarity.

I’m not going to wax philosophical on this, but what it did make me think about is how writers seem to be blessed with the ability to behold the world with that same wonder we did as children.  We have to, really, in order to continue creating our own little worlds. 

The writer is someone for whom a bus ride is not merely from Point A to Point B; rather, it’s an exercise in character study as we little voyeurs observe those in such close proximity that it almost seems weirder to pretend that they’re not there (as the masses do on the London Underground…the eye aversion is almost unbearable – and on sidewalks, too!  This Chi-town gal misses eye-contact *sigh*).  Anyways, we watch these people, speculate on where they’re going, where they’re coming from, what their whole backstory might be.  We get ideas in our noggins as to the perfect character to insert into our current tales or on which to base a whole new novel…all thanks to paying some attention to the real people right under our noses.

We notice subtleties, the body language that suggests insecurities or the butterfly that carries so many metaphors aloft the breezes of its wings.  We notice with a painter’s eye that the clouds aren’t just white and that the sofa is illuminated differently when the sun shines in from that late-afternoon angle.  We notice the people who smile to themselves when they think no one’s looking and that a tree can look sad, hopeful, or maternal.  We notice what a gust of fresh air feels like in our lungs, through our hair, and the new story ideas that the sensation can conjure.

We can describe what happens in a meadow at dusk.

We behold the world with wonder, and the beauty is that not only are we richer for it, but we have the calling that compels us to write it down so that others might experience the world through our eyes and look at it as though for the first time through their own.  There is not always beauty in this awareness; in fact, we may reveal the darker sides of humanity and tell gritty, disturbing stories without that happy ending.  But what there will always be is Truth – I’m talking the capital ‘T’ truth so long as we write, to the best of our abilities, what it is we wonder at through our genuine voices.  That is what makes a story authentic and universal, for something has told us that “life is a huge mystery,” and now that we can think the thought, we can write it.


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