On The Role of Fiction

by Jason Stotts

Fiction serves a unique purpose in our lives: in it we see whole new worlds, new situations, and new people. We experience something that in the ordinary course of our days we do not get to experience in a pure form. We get to experience life in a microcosm, life under a slide, life without its usual subjective attendant complications.

We see in fiction a stage upon which the actors act out their lives and through this we see similarities to our own lives. We use fiction as a mirror into our own souls so that we can see what our lives would look like to us if we could step back from them and see them from the outside.

Through this we are better able to understand the turmoil around us, better able to understand our own situations, better able to understand our own lives. We use fiction to sort out what we really believe. When we see things in a work of fiction with which we agree, it resonates with us and this resonance causes us to look at our own lives with a different light, a light borne of encapsulated understanding from seeing a principle we agree with in action.

Our lives are led by principles, implicitly, explicitly, sometimes confusedly and contradictorily, yet we are led by principles nonetheless. Often our principles are held as vague abstractions, such as cheating is wrong. Fiction then becomes for us the genesis of the principle from the abstract to the concrete: we see in fiction principles born into a world of their own which allows us to take an objective stance on them and judge them in a way we are often unable to do with our own principles we hold in our real lives. We are better able to judge those things extrinsic to us, better able to see fault in others than ourselves, and better able to judge our own principles when we see them played upon a stage by actors who embody them. When we read in a novel, or see in a play or movie, the characters living their lives through their own principles this gives us the chance to judge our principles against theirs and to see whether our principles hold up to this analysis.

Fiction is a necessary part of our lives because we need this check on our principles, we need to see whether what we believe in still moves us with moral passion when we see others do them on a stage, we need to make sure that we do not live our lives by false principles and false ideas. Fiction becomes the light that casts away the shadows of uncertainty and allows us to look at the unbridled essence of the world and say: “This is what I want my life to be like; it is time to take my destiny into my own hands and make it so!”

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