A few days ago I asked why not become religious, if it will give you a better life, even if the evidence for religious beliefs is weak? Commenters eagerly declared their love of truth. Today I’ll ask: if you give up the benefits of religion, because you love far truth, why not also give up stories, to gain even more far truth? Alas, I expect that few who claim to give up religion because they love truth will also give up stories for the same reason. Why?
One obvious explanation: many of you live in subcultures where being religious is low status, but loving stories is high status. Maybe you care a lot less about far truth than you do about status.
Researchers at Ohio State University examined what happened to people who, while reading a fictional story, found themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own – a phenomenon the researchers call “experience-taking.”
They found that, in the right situations, experience-taking may lead to real changes, if only temporary, in the lives of readers.
In one experiment, for example, the researchers found that people who strongly identified with a fictional character who overcame obstacles to vote were significantly more likely to vote in a real election several days later.
Irving Howe wrote of Saul Bellow’s prose that it was sometimes “strongly anti-literary,” that it tried to “break away from the stateliness of the literary sentence.” Amis, in turn, credited Bellow (his literary mentor and surrogate father) with attempting to find a voice appropriate to the twentieth century, and his own fiction is an extension of this ambition. In London Fields the writer-narrator Samson Young muses that, “perhaps because of their addiction to form, writers always lag behind the contemporary formlessness. They write about an old reality, in a language that’s even older.” Contrary to this tendency, Amis risks form in the pursuit of a language that mirrors the contemporary formlessness. His best novels — Money, London Fields, The Information — are oddly shaped and (with the exception of the nearly-perfect Money) very uneven. But unlike your run-of-the-mill Booker contenders, routinely jettisoning their cargos of contemporary speech in order to stay afloat on a sea of polite style, Amis’ novels go right into the currents and whirlpools of modernity, surging and hoarding without constraint.