A Flowchart of Philosophical Novels: Reading Recommendations from Haruki Murakami to Don DeLillo

Do you want to read a philo­soph­i­cal nov­el? Sure, we all do. But the ques­tion of exact­ly what kind of philo­soph­i­cal nov­el you want to read, let alone which indi­vid­ual book, isn’t quite so eas­i­ly answered. But now a pro­fes­sion­al has come to the res­cue: “Ben Roth, a philoso­pher who teach­es in the Har­vard Col­lege Writ­ing Pro­gram, has put togeth­er a kind of flow­chart rec­om­mend­ing philo­soph­i­cal nov­els and sto­ries,” reports Dai­ly Nous’ Justin Wein­berg. “With cat­e­gories like ‘about a philoso­pher,’ ‘by a Ph.D.,’ ‘hor­ror,’ ‘the com­pli­ca­tions of his­to­ry,’ and many more, the chart is pret­ty big.”

The choic­es you make in nav­i­gat­ing it could land you on the work of a writer from one of a vari­ety of coun­tries, one of sev­er­al eras, and one of a capa­cious range of def­i­n­i­tions of “philo­soph­i­cal.” If you take the word in the sense of a nov­el­’s being about or steeped in the work of a par­tic­u­lar philoso­pher, Roth rec­om­mends books like Thomas Bern­hard’s Cor­rec­tion (Wittgen­stein) and Teju Cole’s Open City (Ben­jamin and Barthes). Else­where on the map he also includes nov­els writ­ten by philo­soph­i­cal­ly cre­den­tialed aca­d­e­mics like William Gass, Iris Mur­doch, and Anuk Arud­pra­gasam.

If you pre­fer nov­els where “fic­tion writ­ers drop into straight essay­is­tic mode,” Roth offers a choice between the easy mode of Milan Kun­der­a’s The Unbear­able Light­ness of Being and the hard mode of Robert Musil’s The Man With­out Qual­i­ties. (If you just want­ed to read about a bunch of phi­los­o­phy stu­dents, well, there’s always Don­na Tart­t’s The Secret His­to­ry.)

To those who go in for more “nov­el­ly nov­els,” as Geoff Dyer (a known Bern­hard enthu­si­ast and author of some pret­ty philo­soph­i­cal fic­tion him­self) mem­o­rably put it, Roth presents more forks in the road: Would you like to read sci­ence fic­tion? Exis­ten­tial­ism? Post­mod­ernism? A book free of ‑isms entire­ly, or any­way as free as pos­si­ble?

Your answers to those ques­tions and oth­ers could have you read­ing any­thing from J.G. Bal­lard’s Crash (“body hor­ror”) to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nau­sea (“mid-cen­tu­ry French clas­sic”) to David Fos­ter Wal­lace’s Infi­nite Jest (post­mod­ern, ency­clo­pe­dic, on addic­tion). Oth­er choic­es may lead you to selec­tions less obvi­ous­ly involved with phi­los­o­phy: J.M. Coet­zee’s Wait­ing for the Bar­bar­ians, or Vir­ginia Woolf’s To the Light­house, Haru­ki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Won­der­land and the End of the World. Of course, you may not want to read a philo­soph­i­cal nov­el at all: you may want to read philo­soph­i­cal short sto­ries, in which case Roth rec­om­mends such form-defin­ing fig­ures as Edgar Allan Poe, writer of “dis­turb­ing sto­ries”; Lydia Davis, writer of “short sto­ries” (empha­sis his); and Jorge Luis Borges, writer of “awe-induc­ing sto­ries.”

Borges and quite a few oth­er names on Roth’s philo­soph­i­cal-nov­el flow­chart also appear in crit­ic David Auer­bach’s “Inquest on Left-Brained Lit­er­a­ture,” a reveal­ing look at the authors read by “engi­neers with a lit­er­ary bent.” Both also include Don DeLil­lo, whose work Auer­bach char­ac­ter­izes as mak­ing “heavy use of phan­tas­mago­ria, com­ple­ment­ed by very sophis­ti­cat­ed nar­ra­tive con­struc­tion,” and “sim­ple, vis­cer­al, clas­si­cal themes approached in [a] flashy, nov­el way.” Roth, for his part, describes DeLil­lo’s White Noise as his “favorite book ever.” Else­where on the flow­chart, to the philo­soph­i­cal lit­er­a­ture enthu­si­ast who’s read every­thing he offers “the most under­rat­ed philo­soph­i­cal nov­el of all time,” Dino Buz­za­ti’s The Tar­tar Steppe. No, I haven’t heard of it either, but I have to admit that it keeps good com­pa­ny.

via Dai­ly Nous

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jorge Luis Borges Selects 74 Books for Your Per­son­al Library

A Clock­work Orange Author Antho­ny Burgess Lists His Five Favorite Dystopi­an Nov­els: Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Island & More

R. Crumb Illus­trates Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nau­sea: Exis­ten­tial­ism Meets Under­ground Comics

44 Essen­tial Movies for the Stu­dent of Phi­los­o­phy

Emi­nent Philoso­phers Name the 43 Most Impor­tant Phi­los­o­phy Books Writ­ten Between 1950–2000: Wittgen­stein, Fou­cault, Rawls & More

135 Free Phi­los­o­phy eBooks

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (13)
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  • Nathaniel Parr says:

    The Tar­tar Steppe is one of my favorite books of all time, I’ve read it twice and will read again. I read it because it was on Borges’ list. It is a beau­ti­ful, strange nov­el that exists per­fect­ly on two lev­els, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a bit­ing satire of mil­i­tarism as well as an absur­dist depic­tion of life itself.

  • try harder says:

    man man man man man man man Vir­ginia Woolf man man bonus points this one is also a rapist man man man man man man

  • Susan says:

    I would have liked this a lot bet­ter if I could actu­al­ly read the titles of the books.

  • E says:

    I agree with Susan. Could some­one just write out the titles in a list rather than sub­ject­ing us to this illeg­i­ble flow­chart?

  • Françoise says:

    There is a link with­in the arti­cle (Roth’s philo­soph­i­cal-nov­el­flow­chart) which opens a ver­sion where all titles are read­able.

  • kaveinthran says:

    hi, I am a blind per­son, and this post­card is a visu­al list which I can’t read with my screen read­er. Can any­one cre­ate a read­able list either in html or text? thanks

  • Andy says:

    Nei­ther the orig­i­nal nor this frag­men­tary cut ver­sion have leg­i­ble titles. Good thing that I rec­og­nize some of them and they are most­ly apt for the trash bin, so noth­ing valu­able was missed.

  • Ed says:

    Kavein­trhan, here is a list. I have not writ­ten out the flow chart head­ings, though. I don’t think I missed any.

    From left to right (at least in some sense):

    Fic­ciones, Borges
    We Oth­ers, Steven Mill­hauser
    Sto­ries of your Life and Oth­ers, Ted Chi­ang
    Com­plete Sto­ries, Kaf­ka
    A Col­lapse of Hors­es, Bri­an Even­son
    Com­plete Tales and Poems, Poe
    The Col­lect­ed Sto­ries, Lydia Davis
    Inher­it­ed Dis­or­ders, Adam Sachs
    At the Moun­tains of Mad­ness, Love­craft
    Bartle­by, Melville
    Train Dreams, Denis John­son
    The Inven­tion of Morel, Adol­fo Casares

    The Tun­nel, William H. Gass
    Under the Net, Iris Mur­doch
    The Sto­ry of a Brief Mar­riage, Anuk Arud­pra­gasam
    The Secret His­to­ry, Don­na Tartt
    The Tar­tar Steppe, Dino Buz­za­ti
    The Oppos­ing Shore, Julien Gracq
    Ice­fields, Thomas Whar­ton

    The Man With­out Qual­i­ties, Robert Musil
    The Unbear­able Light­ness of Being, Milan Kun­dera
    Cor­rec­tion, Thomas Bern­hard
    The Mag­ic Moun­tain, Thomas Mann
    Crypto­nom­i­con, Neal Stephen­son

    Galatea 2.2, Richard Pow­ers
    The Dis­cov­ery of Slow­ness, Sten Nadol­ny
    Intu­ition, Alle­gra Good­man
    A Clock­work Orange, Antho­ny Burgess
    House of Leaves, Mark Danielews­ki
    Steps, Jerzy Kosin­s­ki
    Crash, J.G. Bal­lard
    Con­sumed, David Cro­nen­berg
    Flick­er, Theodore Roszak
    The Sea Came in at Mid­night, Steve Erick­son

    Ice, Anna Kavan
    Hard Boiled Won­der­land and the End of the World, Haru­ki Muraka­mi
    Dhal­gren, Samuel R. Delany
    Anni­hi­la­tion, Jeff Van­der­meer
    The City, The City, Chi­na Melville
    Time’s Arrow, Mar­tin Amis
    Notable Amer­i­can Women, Ben Mar­cus

    The Man in the High Cas­tle, Philip K. Dick
    The Chil­dren of Men, PD James
    The Intu­ition­ist, Col­son White­head

    Nev­er Let me Go, Kazuo Ishig­uro
    The Red Men, Matthew De Abaitua
    A Can­ti­cle for Lei­bowitz, Wal­ter Miller Jr.
    The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov, Dos­to­evsky
    The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tol­stoy
    The Note­book of Malte Lau­rids Brigge, Rilke
    The Immoral­ist, Gide

    The Brief His­to­ry of the Dead, Kevin Brock­meier
    The Wall, Marlen Haushofer
    Nau­sea, Sartre
    The Man­darins, Simone de Beau­voir
    The Plague, Camus
    The Movie­go­er, Walk­er Per­cy
    Ston­er, John Williams
    The Out­sider, Richard Wright
    My Heart Hemmed In, Marie Ndi­aye
    You Deserve Noth­ing, Alexan­der Mak­sik

    Swan­n’s Way, Proust
    To The Light­house, Woolf
    Zeno’s Con­science, Sve­vo
    Con­tempt, Alber­to Moravia
    The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe
    Remain­der, Tom Mccarthy
    The Meur­sault Inves­ti­ga­tion, Kamel Daoud
    2666, Rober­to Bolano

    The Recog­ni­tions, Gad­dis
    Grav­i­ty’s Rain­bow, Pyn­chon
    The Ori­gin of the Brunists, Robert Coover
    A Naked Sin­gu­lar­i­ty, Ser­gio de la Pava
    Life, a User’s Man­u­al, Georges Perec
    Infi­nite Jest, David Fos­ter Wal­lace
    White Noise, Don DeLil­lo
    In the Name of the Rose, Umber­to Eco
    Explor­ers of the New Cen­tu­ry, Mag­nus Mills
    Wait­ing for the Bar­bar­ians, J.M. Coet­zee
    The Satan­ic Vers­es, Salman Rushdie
    Song of Solomon, Toni Mor­ri­son
    House­keep­ing, Mar­i­lynne Robin­son

    Pat­tern Recog­ni­tion, William Gib­son
    Eat the Doc­u­ment, Dana Spi­ot­ta
    The Flame Throw­ers, Rachel Kush­n­er
    The Uses of Enchant­ment, Hei­di Julav­its
    The Map and the Ter­ri­to­ry, Michel Houelle­becq
    I Hate the Inter­net, Jarett Kobek
    The Sense of an End­ing, Julian Barnes
    The Sell­out, Paul Beat­ty
    Fates and Furies, Lau­ren Groff
    Mat­ing, Nor­man Rush

  • E says:

    Thank you, Ed!

  • Urania Ombo says:

    @try hard­er
    I agree, there’s not even one heli­copter-gen­dered neu­ro­di­ver­gent POC oth­erkin on this list. I just can’t believe this. It’s the cur­rent year. I. Just. Can’t.

  • John Mullen says:

    Humil­i­ty cast aside. “The Woman Who Hat­ed Philoso­phers” Swal­low Tail Press 2017.

  • DrGartland says:

    I very much rec­om­mend Julia Kristeva’s work. She is said to be the great­est liv­ing female philoso­pher and pos­si­bly the great­est liv­ing philoso­pher.

  • kaveinthran says:

    thank you so much

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