In an interview by Lookout for its “House Guest” series, fiction author Douglas Watson (The Era of Not Quite, 2013) talks about his brief relationship with philosophy, and explains how fiction may be working for him as its substitute.
“I don’t know that much about philosophy,” says Watson, “but that doesn’t stop me from poking fun at philosophers in my fiction. Really, though, it’s my younger self I’m making fun of.”
Watson, who fell out of love with philosophy in Philosophy 101, says: “Philosophy, it turned out, was difficult and rather dry and quite possibly beside the point.” An urgent political climate during his college years left him feeling that “life…took place in the world, not just inside our skulls, and the world needed our help right now!”
In his short story “New Animal,” it’s no wonder that, with a range of philosophy from the hyper-rational Hume, to the romantic work of Kierkegaard, protagonist Van Roost can’t find satisfaction, and finds himself “troubled by the vague sense that he is ‘waiting for something’.” This is a feeling Watson himself knows “quite well.”
“But perhaps a restless sense that one is forever waiting for something is a good cast of mind for a fiction writer,” says Watson. “Like philosophy, fiction writing is a form of thinking. John Gardner would tell me it is the form I trust the most. I can’t make myself believe in some grand search for meaning anymore—as though the mind were Napoleon and truth were there to be won on the battlefield. If Plato was right about the unexamined life, well, okay, then let’s actually examine life, the messy stuff of experience. That messy stuff is what fiction is all about.”
It’s that “no one answer is definitively right,” and that “every character has a different take on things, a different set of questions and answers” that Watson finds most satisfying about fiction. “That is how life actually is, and that is why fiction is good at understanding life.”
Click here to read the full interview with Watson, “Why I Make Fun of Philosophers.”
Watson’s recent collection The Era of Not Quite is available at the BOA Bookstore.