Literary Production as Research Science

I think writers who make up stuff (you can call them literary if you like, this making stuff up I think being different than, well, murder mystery writers for instance who are really in the business of producing a clear commodity — the form of entertainment and are not really that much different than the manufacturer of beer or vibrators or whatever pleasure producing commodity you can think of and the problem with writers who make up stuff is that the thing they produce defies itself as a clear commodity because these things are a way of knowing something and I don’t mean to imply that they teach or are instructive like an instruction manual but like contact with something gruesome they leave the user altered. A pleasure producing commodity doesn’t change the user, but instead, produced affirms the user’s current sense of themselves. To read a work that is made up is to suddenly come in to contact with a way of being someone who is not you.


(In terms of my own writing I think I am tending toward the manufacture of slightly amusing little gadgets that produced a small amount of pleasure and might best be outsourced for manufacturer in whatever realm has the lowest wages.)

I think this basic aim is similar to research science. Research scientists want to uncover information about the universe that describes how it operates. The effect of this knowledge doesn’t affirm the user of the knowledge but rather alters the user in a fundamental way. For an example see Nils Bohr and the discovery of atom and it’s particles. For example see the insanity around stringtheory.

And so the methods are at odds; however the core effect is the same.

Scientists are funded in our culture to do their work. This wasn’t always the case. In talking about this with a very not literal minded friend he mentioned that the reason that they are funded and have places like National Institute of Health, Los Alamos, etc. is that they have produced things of use. This is true, scientists as literary artists (read Newton and try to tell me man wasn’t a writer. Read Proust or Stein and tell me these two folks weren’t scientists.)

Scientists have their commercial viability because they have been able to produced practical, material works of knowledge. The atomic bomb was a very good ad for the research scientists.

But I would content that in the same horrible way, the Nazi party, Soviet Russia, and the New American Century are all examples of practical, material applications of literary knowledge. Maybe literary knoweldge is optimistic in nature, wheras science is pessimistic?

In a more positive sense, Jane Jacob’s The Birth and Death of American Cities can be seen as an influential, material application of literary work. Still utopian but with a smaller body count.

With the commoditization of information, the manufacture of knowledge becomes a viable and useful activity. Writers are currently having an affect on the way we think about ourselves. The problem thought of the vast majority of literary practitioners in the United States is that we believe we are of no consequence in fact we crave that we are of no consequence and by large we are of no consequence. In practicality thought we are of as much consequence as any research scientist.

I am just thinking this through, hence my slow resonse time, and my lack of a desire to make a definitive statement. I am wondering now — and I know there is some kind of Plato/Socrates distinction between philosophy and poetry. My suspicion that a work that represents that holds a mirror to nature is more persuasive and engaging than other sort of manufactured knowing, but I don’t know.

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