2024/07/13 - 01:39

Narrating Philosophy

by Müesser Yeniay

The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that cannot be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully. (191)

There exists a philosophy in every story and in every philosophy, a thousand stories, as it is put forward by Flannery O’Connor in The Short Story: A Critical Introduction. A story is the concrete and last state of values, doctrines, believes which are poured into life. A story is a mirror of life which signifies the varieties of moods, incidents, characters. By them, we peep at the lives of others from our windows and we see ourselves in them. We see that we are what they are not.

Ideas are born out of events, events out of ideas. Stories give advice, advices give stories. The material of philosophy is life and life’s is that of philosophy. They are all entangled in each other.

In Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, the philosopher asserts that what can be shown, cannot be said. Thus the author draws pictures in our minds to show what cannot be said. And we are being infected by those drawings. They even do not comment or evaluate subjectively the incidents but they treat words mechanically so that they can make the expected effect. So the philosophy is always hidden behind these mechanisms, behind words, behind plot. They give us the skeleton and we complete it to a body. For instance, if an author writes ‘today ı buried my daughter’, we get stunned, it creates a shocking effect in our minds because what he did not say shakes us. Thus in a story, we are mostly affected by what is not said but depicted. This is the metaphysics of stories.

Reality lies beyond the ordinary world of appearances, so in the short story, meaning lies beneath the surface of the narrative. The framework of the narrative embodies symbols which function to question the world of appearances and to oint to a reality beyond the facts of the extensional world. (81)

In general, a short-story writer has an idea before the plot. Just after he shapes an idea in his mind, he begins to construct incidents, characters. Thust ideology and philosophy lies at the core of stories and precede plot. As Edgar Allen Poe asserts:

A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accomodate his incidents; but having conceivied, with deliberate care a certain, unique or single effect tobe wrought out, he then invents such incidents. (20)

Classic short-story writers such as Franz Kafka, Tolstoy and Chekhov deal with the philosophic issues in their writings. In other words, they narrate philosophies, treating subjects metaphysically and thus question them by incidents. But how can they narrate philosophies?

To begin with, Franz Kafka, the most introvert writer among them, stands out as the most fantastic writer, too. At least, we can observe this particularities in his fantastic story Metamorphosis. There, the boundaries between an insect and a human life are conveyed to the reader. While reading, one may even sob in tears because of the melancholy of Gregor’s situation. At the end of the story, Gregor does not contradict himself and dies for he cannot put up with all those nonsensical circumstances. What is left to us from the story is just destroying feelings and philosophic conceptions. We feel and think simultaneously. We both grasp the absurd particularities of existence by thinking and the catastrophes of the protagonist by feeling. Franz Kafka questions the oddness of existence by both being an insect outwardly and a human being having a consciousness inside. As the theme of consciousness is elaborated in one of my poems, written upon reading Metamorphosis:

Our existence depends upon

Not our body

but our consciousness

A stone, too

does exist

but never is it hurt

never stoned by life

It is not wrapped up

In bandages all round

Both its body and

Its heart.

Kafka does not write poems himself but he such narrates that people cannot help writing poems. He is a source of inspiration. In short, that is the effect of prominent short stories, melodious effect!

Furthermore, Chekhov’s melodious story A Trifle From Real Life depicts the huge realities of life. It is a story of an eight-year old boy called Aliosha who likes eating pasties and chocolates. And his mother Olga Ivanovna is inside a love affair with Nikolai Ilitch Belayeff. One day when Belayeff come to them, he meets with not Olga but Aliosha and they chat together. He asks him about Aliosha’s father and he gives answers to him quite sincerely and childishly knowing that children always tell the truth. Then Aliosha informs him about his father and his attitude towards him and he gets irritated by these and transport them to the mother even though he gave word of honour but Aliosha is deceived. He blushes, hiccoughs and cries. And with every tear pours down a thought from Aliosha’s mind that the grown-up world is quite different from that of the pasties. And we see there that a child’s new-born instincts are purer than the complex impulses of grown-ups. Their world is evil because sufferings experienced grow up evils. Sincerity and trust for weak or immature ones and we can draw many meanings about life as stories glitter meanings. And mostly when they stop talking, they begin to say something.

As to Tolstoy’s story, The Death of Ivan Ilych, philosophic issues more commonly treated such as death, desires, happiness etc. The protogonist, Ivan Ilych is a wealthy member of the court of justice and he is always greedy for more money. He follows the traces of his own indulgences such as money, a luxurious life. But he cannot comes to understanding that happiness does not lie on money but on compassion. Just as sage Marcus Aurellius says in his Meditations “ Nowhere can man find a quiter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul. ” (69) It is not surprising that they converge in this point because Tolstoy himself is another philosopher who use short-story as a means of questioning the world and humane themes.

As it is obvious, the implied meanings are heavier than the denoted ones and the philosophy in the story outweights the incidents. The writers narrate not stories but philosophies. Thus it would not be wrong if we call them the philosophers of narration or narrators of philosophy.


Aurellius, Marcus. Meditations. Essex: Longman Press, 1963.

Barnet, Sylvan, ed. Literature: Thinking, Reading and Writing Critically.2nd ed. New York:

Longman, 1997.

Lohafer, Susan. Coming to Terms With the Short Story. London: Louisiana State University

Press, 1985.

Kür, Pınar, ed. Short Fiction in English. İstanbul: İstanbul Bilgi University Press, 2001.

May, E. Charles, ed. Short Story Theories. Ohio : Ohio University Press, 1987.

Shaw, Valerie. The Short Story: A Critical Introduction. New York: Longman Inc., 1983.

Revision: 2021/01/09 - 23:40 - © Mauro Nervi

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