The Goal of Reading Fiction Is Analysis Itself

Benjamin Franklin

If a person’s goal in reading narrative fiction is only to come to an understanding of the truth, then that is indeed childlike. In my view, the goal is not to come to an understanding of the ideas, but the goal is the analysis itself.

It’s the same goal one has when they are solving a puzzle. Of course you eventually solve the puzzle, but the outcome is not that important compared to the act of solving the puzzle. Someone could just give you the solved puzzle, i.e just present the ideas in essay format, but the subjective experience would be qualitatively different from solving it yourself.

Those who study fiction in the way one would study science or law are misguided, in my view. The level of seriousness in the two pursuits are incomparable. I find serious commentators who quote fiction to be as annoying as you probably do.

The worst authors of fiction are those who put ideas or some notion of truth in the foreground. It comes off as preachy. Ayn Rand is a notorious culprit of this style of writing. For these kinds of authors, the philosophy does indeed transform into the veneer and the narrative slips into the background. Good authors make the narrative the veneer and the ideas become a puzzle to be solved by the observer.

Now, you can argue about the time worthiness of analyzing fiction. It is potentially not as worthy of a time investment as doing science. But, if you consider the long term, the potential inevitable extinction of humanity along with all traces of their existence, then all actions are equally worthy of time or equally unworthy of time.

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