It seemed natural to me that I began to gravitate to fiction through the door of philosophy, specifically, political philosophy. In part, that comes from my training. But it’s also because my passion for the big questions that philosophy poses about our existence–what it means to be alive in this world, at this time, and how that might be different for others in different places and at different times–always connected me in more than cognitive ways to the philosophical texts I was reading.
In an essay called “Thinkers and Dreamers,” James Ryerson noted, that the novelist David Foster Wallace, who had a background in philosophy, considered fiction as one way to “capture the emotional mood of a philosophical work.” Fiction isn’t simply an attempt to make philosophy accessible to a wider audience, but to “recreate a reader’s more subjective reactions to a philosophical text.” (New York Times Book Review, January 23, 2011, p. 23).
I think fiction can get at these more subjective, emotional resonances in a text. But I have become more and more interested not only in people’s subjective responses to philosophy texts, but also in the feeling-ful work of writing philosophy and political theory. To this end, I have conceptualized–though not yet written–several works of historical fiction about major women philosophers and theorists whose questions–and attempted answers–about the human condition reverberate across the centuries. One is Christine de Pisan, a fifteenth century woman whose books were popular in her time, and who has been considered the first European woman to become a professional writer. Another, as you might have guessed, is Hannah Arendt. I have outlines for the novels I want to write about these two women.
But, of course, fiction has a much wider reach than imaginative responses to philosophical texts. And so has my incursion into this genre. The first story I published–there are several others waiting in the wings–was entitled “Eating Camille Paglia,” and appeared in Fiction International in 2005. It was a satire based on Paglia’s celebration of sexual libertinism, told from the point of view of an adolescent girl who takes much of what Paglia writes literally…and decides to pursue her beloved object of desire: Paglia herself.
Having discovered a narrative voice I began work on a story collection exploring other dimensions of what might be termed the sexual revolution and its discontents, told from the point of view of different characters–male and female–in the past, present, and future.
In one way or another, these stories explore aspects of feminist thinking and living. The characters in them represent different conflicts surrounding efforts to “undo gender.”