December 29, 2014
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
2.14 Pounds (US)
$85.00 USD, £66.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference
Paperback / softback
December 29, 2014
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
1.77 Pounds (US)
$35.00 USD, £27.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

What Is Fiction For?

Literary Humanism Restored

How can literature, which consists of nothing more than the description of imaginary events and situations, offer any insight into the workings of "human reality" or "the human condition"? Can mere words illuminate something that we call "reality"? Bernard Harrison answers these questions in this profoundly original work that seeks to re-enfranchise reality in the realms of art and discourse. In an ambitious account of the relationship between literature and cognition, he seeks to show how literary fiction, by deploying words against a background of imagined circumstances, allows us to focus on the roots, in social practice, of the meanings by which we represent our world and ourselves. Engaging with philosophers and theorists as diverse as Wittgenstein, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Derrida, F. R. Leavis, Cleanth Brooks, and Stanley Fish, and illustrating his ideas through readings of works by Swift, Woolf, Appelfeld, and Dickens, among others, this book presents a systematic defense of humanism in literary studies, and of the study of the Humanities more generally, by a distinguished scholar.

About the Author

Bernard Harrison is Emeritus E. E. Ericksen Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah and Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Humanities, University of Sussex, UK. He is author of Inconvenient Fictions: Literature and the Limits of Theory; The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion; and (with Patricia Hanna) Word and World: Practice and the Foundations of Language.


"What Is Fiction For? Literary Humanism Restored brings the disciplines of literature and philosophy to bear on a single subject: the necessity of humane letters in education, the capacity of literature to transform and elevate the mind."—Academic Questions

"The book is wide ranging and deeply engaged with a broad range of theoretical perspectives. . . . Recommended."—Choice

"This book is not an easy read, but the effort is rewarding since its argument may very well represent a cornerstone in the history of ideas. It can certainly be a cornerstone of one's career: if one is a student in the humanities and has not yet developed needed certainties, this book can provide the grounding needed to develop them. The book's ideas are stoically, logically, and brilliantly defended. . . . Harrison's account ultimately defines itself as mandatory reading for anyone concerned with literature and literary humanism."—Partial Answers

"One great virtue of the book is that Harrison's marriage of philosophy and literary criticism does genuine and novel work. It takes someone of Harrison's philosophical training to articulate the theoretical basis for his defense of literary humanism, and it takes his gifts as a critic to show what this humanism looks like in practice."—Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

"All those who care about literature, including admirers of the New Criticism, are indebted to Bernard Harrison for demonstrating, at length and in painstaking theoretical detail, the philosophical validity for the twenty-first century of 'merely what every common reader has always taken to be involved in ''talking about books.'''"—The Weekly Standard

"In What Is Fiction For? Harrison makes a strong case for the ongoing relevance of the study of iterature as a serious and worthwhile intellectual pursuit."—Eighteenth-Century Fiction

"[A] hugely original and rich defence of literary humanism. . . . I think this book, and Harrison's library cognitivism more broadly, deserves more attention . . . . "—British Journal of Aesthetics

"This book is interdisciplinary in the best sense of this term: firmly rooted in both philosophy and literary studies, it brings philosophy to bear, illuminatingly, on literary texts while also enlisting the latter for support of an innovative theory of meaning in language."—Leona Toker, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"What is Fiction For? offers a grand, and successful, rethinking of an entire discipline and the conceits, questions, and cares that animate it. It will be the first book that shows literary theorists and philosophers how to divorce, once and for all, a defense of humanism from a retreat to Enlightenment and Romantic exaggerations about the human and its place in the world."—John Gibson, University of Louisville
Indiana University Press

9780253014061 : what-is-fiction-for-harrison
620 Pages
$85.00 USD
9780253014085 : what-is-fiction-for-harrison
Paperback / softback
620 Pages
$35.00 USD

Other Titles by Bernard Harrison

Contending with Antisemitism in a Rapidly Changing Political Climate

edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, with contributions by Bernard Harrison, Gerald M. Steinberg, Dina Porat, Miriam F. Elman, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Jan Grabowski, Marc Grimm, Esther Webman, Dave Rich, Lesley Klaff, Balázs Berkovitz, Mark We...
Nov 2021 - Indiana University Press
$80.00 USD - Hardback
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Blaming the Jews

Bernard Harrison
Oct 2020 - Indiana University Press
$90.00 USD - Hardback
$38.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Other Titles in LITERARY CRITICISM / Semiotics & Theory

Bergson, Eliot, and American Literature

Paul Douglass
Mar 2025 - University Press of Kentucky
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$12.95 USD - Electronic book text

The Sound of Writing

edited by Christopher Cannon and Steven Justice
Nov 2023 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$114.95 USD - Hardback
$54.95 USD - Paperback / softback

How Writing Made Us Human, 3000 BCE to Now

Walter Stephens
Oct 2023 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$35.95 USD - Hardback