Review of Drums under the Windows by Sean O'Casey
Why do you read fiction? How do you read fiction? Not people in general, but you specifically? I've come across so many reasons why and how people read fiction that it's an understatement to say that fiction is simply for enjoyment. That's like saying automobiles were invented for enjoyment; there's just so much to do with them for so many different reasons.
I've come across people who read fiction for the escape; upon a friend recommendation; they love the author; for historical research; to become a better writer; and even those who just need to read to stay sane. Each of these functions differently. Reading a story about how a family-operated farm resists the mechanization of their traditions is an escape for someone who rides the train into the smoggy city every day. It allows them to see and smell a little bit of country before immersing in noise and grime. Reading because a friend recommends a book is a leap of faith not just into the book, but into the relationship. It chooses to read a certain material because a trusted and respected person in their life thought for some reason that they'd like it. Reading because one loves an author is pretty obligatory; the plot could be something the reader is normally disinterested in, but since their favorite author wrote it, they'll jump right in. In terms of researching history through fiction, there's two avenues; you either read historical fiction, which is written about one time frame from a later time frame, or you read something from the original time frame to get a sense of what life was like for those people. Reading to become a better writer is an intellectual practice, because although one immerses both mind and feelings into the book, their primary concern is to learn techniques of the craft in itself. And those who need to read to stay sane integrate it into their lives and values.
These are only six reasons among many, however you can see how differently they are from what they entail of our perspective. Each one entails a different ratio of intellect-to-emotion, and being exposed to the multitude of reasons for reading fiction, I've come to conclude that there's always some intellect and some emotion. Some novels are much more intelligent than others, giving the reader more to think about. But no novel is ever completely without thinking of some type, as the very process of reading entails one to identify and follow plot, subplot, inner character conflict, outer character conflict, and problem resolution in a way that emotions simply aren't made to do. And when a novel is extremely transparent, it takes very little intellect to follow along, allowing one's emotions to primarily construct the story. However, each of the six reasons above pertain to some type of balance between thinking and feeling.
The topic of enjoyment brings surrogate activities to the forefront, and the topic of thinking and feeling our way through fiction brings the mental orientations of subjectivity and objectivity to the forefront. I'll address surrogate activities first.
Imagine you're a chef in a restaurant that features cuisine you've always wanted to cook. You experiment with recipes, you taste your way to a finely tuned palate, and run a kitchen like a well-tuned machine. Everything works. Why wouldn't it, though? Not only have you dreamed of this, but you've put in the effort to attain and maintain that dream. According to Ted Kaczynski in the Unabomber Manifesto, this would not qualify as a surrogate activity. But why, isn't a surrogate activity something that doesn't necessary lead to your survival? No, that's too stark of a definition. A surrogate activity is anything would leave you seriously unfulfilled should you not perform it, after cutting your life down to fulfilling only biological needs. Thus, as the previously described chef (they're not all like that), cooking is a nexus of primal fulfillment. They need to do it; it's compulsive. Is it enjoyable? Yes. Does this mean that a non-chef who cooks doesn't enjoy cooking? No. They enjoy it as well. Thus, enjoyment isn't the best qualifier for why or how people read fiction (among other things) because not only is it an affect, but it doesn't account for natural compulsions. Yes, compulsive readers enjoy reading--just like the chef enjoys cooking and managing palates--but they read for much more than the affect of enjoyment; they need to. It's such a strong source of primal fulfillment that if they trimmed their life down to performing only biological needs, then they would definitely feel unfulfilled with reading fiction being absent from their life.
Now onto subjective and objective. As my teacher has pointed out a hundred times, thinking and feeling are different than subjective and objective. As I stated before, every piece of fiction entails some ratio of thought and emotion, because emotion can't do the thinking of connecting plot and solving mysteries, and mere thought can't identify with characters--should you identify with them at all--without some emotion. At base, the combination of thought and emotion makes us sentient beings, and is thus nothing particular to the practice of reading. We combine thought and emotion every day, even those who do it on a very basic and unskilled level. It's so banal that it requires the involvement of the topic of subjective and objective orientation to really delineate how some people get more from fiction, and other activities, than others.
A subjective perspective is all about the self. Subjectivity approaches the world from the inside out, projecting terms, standards, and preconceptions onto the outside world with the intention of conforming existent reality to the self. The world is thereby filtered through the screen of tautology: Something is good when it either affirms me or is useful to me, because if it were good or useful than it would affirm me. A subjective perspective operates cyclically, though never allows untainted reality in the cycle for fear that it will bind the me-mechanism. So, when it comes to reading fiction, if one operates with a subjective perspective, all their thoughts and emotions will be restricted to this paradigm. Very subjective individuals thus seek out primarily emotive fiction--rather than literary fiction--because it by design has a higher emotion-to-thought ratio. It's got non-stop action, has a lot of sex scenes, has unnecessary violence, etc. Emotive and thinking aspects still exist in the subjective cycle, however on a much thinner and more superficial level.
The objective perspective, since is also operated by sentient beings, you guessed it, involves both thought and emotion. However, since objectivity welcomes non-me-affirmative reality, the thoughts and emotions that occur are unconstrained by biased standards. Objectivity is also ironic; it allows emotion (and thought, of course) to occur because the self operates from the orient that they can develop tools and abilities to regulate them. They're not afraid of them. In other words, they allow their thoughts and emotions to occur so they can understand and judge them and eventually have control over them, not the other way around. This is what I mean by objectivity allowing emotion; the self views the emotion for what it is, where it derived and what it effects, proactively categorizing it rather than merely responding to it. So the objective cycle is unlike the me-mechanism of subjectivity in that it develops a constant inward stream of reality, allowing the self to be put into check by reality, rather than the other way around, which is how subjectivity operates.
So back to fiction. Both subjective and objective people, based on the criteria of their perspectives, can enjoy fiction, per se. But as we see with differences in these two perspectives, since objective individuals allow more criteria into their mechanism, they can experience fiction on a much deeper level than mere enjoyment. Both subjective and objective people can also have literary compulsions, and their subjective or objective orientation determines how they individually go about fulfilling it.
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