Amanda Craig

Arise, Sir David

Consciousness and the Novel

By

Secker & Warburg 320pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

The closest we may ever come to learning how another human being thinks is reading novels. Despite the advances in science that could assist us to penetrate the mystery of another person’s consciousness, what will always remain is the old-fashioned method of making marks on some sort of surface. Whether the picture this presents is accurate, when philosophers such as Daniel Dennett insist that the metaphor for the brain is pandemonium, in which all the different areas are competing for dominance, is something novelists have been debating ever since Joyce and Woolf. However, there should be no doubt that being given fictional versions of how people see, feel and think renders our own lives richer, more human and possibly more humane. As Ian McEwan wrote after September 11, ‘lf the hijackers had been able to imagine themselves into the thoughts and feelings of the passengers, they would have been unable to proceed … Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion and the beginning of morality.’

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