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A few thoughts on fiction

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I haven't been following closely the recent debate over the theological status (or lack thereof) of fictional characters, but here are a couple of things that occurred to me, reflecting on the matter in solitary fashion.

First, this issue clearly arises, in part, because we live in a culture whose dominant paradigm is that there is the material world, accessible through sensation, and then there is just "everything else". This is the legacy of monotheism, which found it convenient to foster an inability to individuate incorporeals by anything other than form, because the notion of incorporeal individuals who were existential (i.e., prior to form) was integral to the henadological polytheism of the late Academy, a tenacious ideological foe, for all that we have largely forgotten it today.

When the cultural hegemony of Abrahamic monotheism began to decline, this ideological organization made it inevitable that materialism, whether crude or sophisticated, would tend to become dominant. And it remains helpful, of course, for recruitment into monotheistic faiths that the alternative in general should be materialist-atheist, rather than polytheist. In any event, the result is a lack of recognized criteria for distinguishing between Gods, angels, daimons, heroes, other deceased mortals, elementals, “nature spirits”, psychic manifestations, and whatever else shows itself in incorporeal fashion, including fictional characters, whatever mode of subsistence is theirs.

Second, something that may be missed in the debate is that the ancients also had fiction. That is, we do not only have from polytheistic societies hieratic texts, epic poems, and tragedy, which are all either in whole or in part concerned with entities that have a definite theological status. Tragedy is a hybrid form, inasmuch as it has Gods, heroes, and purely fictional characters. But there is also comedy, and in Egypt, India and Rome we definitely see the emergence, at a certain point—perhaps earliest in Egypt—of short stories, novels and plays that answer to our modern category of secular fiction. These clearly have roots in older forms of secular storytelling, namely the folktale, found in every culture.

It would be helpful in this debate, I think, to investigate how some of these ancient polytheistic cultures, and modern polytheistic cultures as well, actually talk about the relationship between these fictional works and the hieratic texts, because I think that a distinction between these textual genres is widely recognized. In the case of Egypt, we can see that the initiation of scribes prepared them, as a practical matter, to compose commentaries, at a minimum, on hieratic texts, as well as possibly creating new ones, but also to produce works of fiction. This would seem to suggest that fiction would be approached, within Egyptian thought, largely as a production of scribes, and hence as ontologically dependent upon the theological factors governing scribal production.
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On May 21st, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC), neowiccan commented:
if anything useful comes out of this mess, that's exactly what it could be- a real conversation about the smooshy line between characters in fiction, folklore, myth and religious texts. the problem seems to arise when different factions insist that a) their view of it is 'historically accurate' and b) anyone who doesn't agree is not only a moron but impious.
it's certainly a conversation in which i'd love to participate.
i'm not familiar with any hellenic equivalent of theological rules dictating what scribes could write. were there any that you know of?
khairete
suz
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On May 21st, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC), lemon_cupcake replied:
i'm not familiar with any hellenic equivalent of theological rules dictating what scribes could write. were there any that you know of?

No, I'm not. There seems to be a lack of extant Hellenic reflection on the theological position of the creative writer, though I guess one could extrapolate a bit from things said about sophists.

To amplify a little on what I said regarding the Egyptian material, from my study of the Demotic "Book of Thoth", it looks to me as though characters in a fictional work might be considered to be the category of entity known as bau, loosely "souls", or partial souls of some sort, perhaps linked in some fashion to the bau of the scribes who wrote them. This is all very speculative, though.
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On May 23rd, 2013 02:54 pm (UTC), neowiccan replied:
that's really interesting. sounds like something along the lines of an egregore.
khairete
suz
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On May 23rd, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC), lemon_cupcake replied:
Potentially. Ba is a very wide-ranging and subtle concept in Egyptian thought. It's often translated "soul", but it has a range of meanings that amount to something like "manifestation". In the scribal initiation one reads of in the "Book of Thoth", the writer seems to have to deal with a lot of bau (that's the plural of ba, btw). I think that some of this interaction concerns the work-souls, so to speak, of the writers who have come before. It could be that the fictional characters created by an author, and who have lived on after them, would be considered among these bau.
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On May 23rd, 2013 05:00 pm (UTC), queenofhalves commented:
ancient texts are not my area of expertise, so i would love to hear more about this:

> It would be helpful in this debate, I think, to investigate how some of these ancient polytheistic cultures, and modern polytheistic cultures as well, actually talk about the relationship between these fictional works and the hieratic texts, because I think that a distinction between these textual genres is widely recognized.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2013/05/notes-toward-a-pagan-theology-of-fiction/
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