Why Fiction is Important

In Plato’s famous work, Republic, he mentions that poets should not be tolerated in any ideal society. The reason is that they spread lies about the world and therefore deceive people regarding reality. For example, a poet may say that humans can conjure up the dead if they dig up bodies and perform resurrection chants over them, having their eyes bulging out of their sockets. If you believe this, says the poet, then your loved ones will return. Reality, of course, says that no matter how ardently you chant, the dead will not rise, in spite of your loving intentions. A more serious example can be drawn to Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Since Hitler used emotional (sometimes poetic) rhetoric to hoodwink the masses to follow his evil causes, it only serves to show you the wicked purposes that poetry can be put to. If people looked to reality, says Plato, they can live in a much happier, reasonable way and avoid dangerous falsehoods. Not only poetry, but fiction, for that matter, can only lead to perpetual sin.

This kind of idea is a lot like the “Harry Potter encourages witchcraft” argument that caused a lot of curious kids to bow their heads in disappointment as their parents forbade them to read what is quite arguably one of the greatest sagas of fantasy ever written. All you need to do is ask a Harry Potter fan and they will tell you how wonderful the books are. 

Why are they wonderful? Because they are entertaining, enlightening, funny, seriously satirical (and even realistic! gasp), despite the fact that it is “unrealistic fiction.”  Fiction does so much that even attempting to label it just so you can understand it is somewhat of an insult. You do not have to “explain” everything to appreciate fiction. One of it’s greatest aspects is that it defies explanations; the imagination itself, being so diverse in its essence, cannot be put into a rational box. Who can fully tell you why a story is awesome? You are simply in awe of its effects and rest in that bliss alone. You don’t have to turn it into a math equation. The more you do that, the more literature itself tends to lose its beauty. You start unnecessarily scrutinizing everything you read, which is just plain unnecessary. It creates a needless strain on your mind and belittles the aesthetic flow that writing can bring to the reader.

Charles Dickens warned his readers in Hard Times that living solely by “facts,” and not imagination was detrimental to one’s emotional health. Because Thomas Gradgrind rams scientific, dictionary terms down his daughter’s throat, she wails to him in anger that his advice has ruined her life. Her father’s concepts were just stark facts that never encouraged creativity. When people disregard imagination, emotion, creativity, and just plain fun in the name of science, realism, rationality, and logic, they spoil so much pleasure. There will be no color to life at all, just a bunch of formulas. 

Not all writers share Dickens’s views; many authors in the 18th century looked at fiction through the lenses of rules and formulas, like Pope and Swift. The Romantics who came later, however, argued that imagination was more important than reason. I agree with the Romantics, though I do not think logic is evil or that a story can never excite the intellect or reason. They most certainly can. But when it comes to value, I value the imagination more than  I ever could science. That’s just the way I am. I disagree heavily with Plato that poets are evil; in spite of the fact that language can be used for sinister purposes, that can’t be an excuse to just be skeptical of every storyteller.  

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4 thoughts on “Why Fiction is Important

  1. I agree with what was said about Plato and the Harry Potter comparison, and I still think that fun and other things are important in art, and I think that if individuals do not want to delve into pieces of fiction to analyze them, that is fine, and I agree that science and logic are not evil.

    However, I would say that for me personally, I think there still IS a science to art, fiction, etc., and although not all individuals need to pursue this knowledge, I think it would be an interesting thing to do. This goes back to enjoyment for me: if people don’t want to do that with creative pieces of art, that’s fine. But I still think there’s a science to art: that there are certain constructs of reality that encompass ALL pieces of art, even though theory after theory presented will be wrong, as is ALWAYS the case with science.

    I think that the creativity, emotional expression, the perception of pieces of art and what they mean to you: those are what the “science” of art means to me. When someone says “I wrote this piece because of this,” that’s science as well as art. Or “I was trying to express THIS”, that’s science as well as art. The enjoyment that you feel from a piece, or the disgust, or anything else you can feel about a piece, THOSE are scientific to me as WELL as artistic to me, even though I don’t have any good theories to define the “science.”

    I guess I’m just a different individual where the learning IS excitement to me, but I recall times where I thought something was analyzed too much and it took the beauty out of the piece, but now, I think there’s no black-and-white absolute rule about that, and that perhaps some people enjoy the analysis and some people do not, but the fact that both types of people exist allows for more opportunities for more people to be happy, and ultimately, I think that’s the point. I do find it interesting how you discuss your relationship with imagination, and it’s quite an interesting perspective about art. Good piece.

    • Why thank you, ma’m. I heard a nasty comment somewhere that Plato didn’t believe in poets; in his view of a Republic, poets are liars, destructive in an ideal society. Well, the idea flared me up, so I decided to go against it. Though, admittedly, I’ve never read Plato. It’s just the idea of fiction being harmful is not one I cherish, obviously.

      • He was most certainly about the truth. I think he wrote a lot about ethics. Maybe he believed the imagination blurred the facts he loved so much.

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