|About the Book|
Object Lessons argues that the problems raised by philosophical theories of reference, specifically the question of how we use language to talk about that which is not language, have particular relevance for the realist novel, since it, too,MoreObject Lessons argues that the problems raised by philosophical theories of reference, specifically the question of how we use language to talk about that which is not language, have particular relevance for the realist novel, since it, too, struggles with the possible---and possibly empty---set of relations through which the novel catalogues and in fact makes its world. I apply linguistic, phenomenological, and literary theories of reference to four writers whose attention to and organization around character work through a series of philosophical problems about the difficulty of relating to intentional objects, objects that contain descriptions of themselves as really or potentially acted upon. Each of these authors develops a feature of the intentional object that cannot exist without narrative, and taken together they contribute to a coherent sense of what intentional objects are and can do in the realist novel. George Merediths work addresses the non-substitutability of different descriptions of the object, the idea that not every true description of an object is the one under which we think of it. Stendhal conceives of characters themselves as intentional objects and analyzes the states of being they take up and slough off at will in an effort to theorize the vagueness of objects and the ways in which plots are generated by our drive to make them more precise. William Makepeace Thackeray is concerned with the question of whether intentional objects exist at all, and how, even if they are present to us, they may be usable as empty sets, placeholders for an indeterminate intention. I turn to Iris Murdoch in a coda in order to illustrate that these explorations of the way we both alight on intentional objects and struggle to use them, operates not only in the thematic preoccupations of these texts, but also and ultimately in their form. Explicitly refusing the idea that intention is available to the intrusive prerogatives of omniscient narration, Murdoch couches the handling of intentional objects as the authors ethical imperative not to attribute motives to character---or, in fact, to people---but to allow descriptions of actions themselves a voice.