The geography of fiction

Novels are tricky. Is upbeat artificial? Is dystopian faithless? Are plot line and characterization exclusive?

Robert D. Kaplan’s new book, The Revenge of Geography, hints at the link between realistic characters and complex scenarios:

Geography is common sense, but it is not fate. Individual choice operates within a certain geographical and historical context, which affects decisions but leaves many possibilities open. The French philosopher Raymond Aron captured this spirit with his notion of “probabilistic determinism,” which leaves ample room for human agency. But before geography can be overcome, it must be respected. Our own foreign-policy elites are too enamored of beautiful ideas and too dismissive of physical facts-on-the-ground and the cultural differences that emanate from them. Successfully navigating today’s world demands that we focus first on constraints, and that means paying attention to maps. Only then can noble solutions follow (from The Wall Street Journal, 9/8/12italics mine).

In Unseduced and Unshaken, Rosalie de Rosset points to the realistic characterization of Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet. “These women do not betray their convictions; they are not sentimentalists. [They] are ‘formidably self-possessed young women with detailed moral sensibilities’ who take themselves and are taken seriously. They don’t just respond; they decide what to do with their lives, every part of them” (from page 153).

The ultimate formula fiction: realistic geography + human agency = noble solutions.

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