The Head And the Heart
Philosophy in Literature
By Burton F. Porter
(Humanity Books, Hardcover, 9781591024118, 177pp.)
Publication Date: May 2, 2006
Part of the greatness of great literature consists in the profound, philosophic ideas the works contain. These ideas may not be unknown to philosophy but, when rendered in literary form, they gain an aesthetic force often lacking in the philosophic treatise with its careful train of reasoning.
In this insightful study, Burton Porter explores the philosophic content of some outstanding literary works, analyzing and evaluating the ideas that drive the narrative.
Porter first examines the concept of free will and determinism in Melville’s Moby Dick, placing the quest for the white whale within the context of foreordination, hubris, prophecy, and defiance of divine power. Connections are also drawn to Euripides’ Medea and Shakespeare’s King Lear as well as the Old Testament.
The good and the right are traced in Anouilh’s Antigone and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, showing the philosophic antagonisms in the literature and in the conflicted minds of the authors.
Voltaire’ Candide and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov are then explored insofar as they express the problem of evil--the tension between human suffering on earth and belief in a benevolent, wise, almighty God.
Finally, the nature of the self is investigated in Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, focusing on identity and the mind-body problem.
Porter makes philosophy come alive by showing its expression in art and revealing the depth of ideas that make literature compelling.
Burton Porter (Springfield, MA) is currently professor of philosophy at Western New England College and a visiting professor of philosophy at Mt. Holyoke College. He is the author or editor of numerous books including Philosophy Through Fiction and Film, The Voice of Reason, and Reasons For Living.
"The Head and the Heart is written for the discerning general reader in a style happily free of academic jargon. Dr. Porter’s account of philosophic themes and his critical insights into a variety of texts are couched in graceful prose, enlivened by wide-ranging references, allusions, and quotations. The book is not only instructive; it is a pleasure to read. In his treatment, the works are not reduced to philosophic tracts. They remain compelling works of art even as their philosophic implications are brought to light. Undaunted by the thickets of criticism that have grown up around his chosen texts—which include Moby-Dick, Anna Karenina, Faust, and The Metamorphosis—Dr. Porter threads his way to those aspects of the works that best illustrate their philosophic content."
Professor Emeritus of English
Western New England College