Friday, January 7, 2011

Plotted Fiction, Economics, and Imaginary Construction

The specific method of economics is the method of imaginary constructions.

This method is the method of praxeology. (Mises, Human Action, 236)

Let me rephrase this: "The specific method of the arts is the method of imaginary construction." And if we confine ourselves to plotted literature, we can add the second sentence.

Mises continues, defining what he means by "imaginary construction"(to which I shall bracket [author] and/or [literary theorist beside "economist" to emphasize the parallels):

An imaginary construction is a conceptual image of a sequence of events logically evolved from the elements of action eomployed in its formation. It is aproduct of deduction, ultimatey derived from the fundamental category of action, the act of preferring and setting aside. In designing such an imaginary construction the economist [author] is not concerned with the quesiton of whether or not it depicts the conditions of reality which he wants to analyze. Nor does he bother about the quesiton of whether or not such as system as his imaginary construction posits could be conceived as really existent and in operation. Even imaginary constructions which are inconceivable, self-contradictory, or unrealizable can render useful, even indispensalble services in the comprehension of reality, provided the economist [author/literary theorist] knows how to use them properly. (236)

Now this certainly seems to describe the work of the literary author who writes plotted fiction, whether it be short stories, novels, plays, epics, romances, or movies. Thus it seems that the economist, as understood by Mises, does similar work to the writer of plotted fiction. Both construct "what-if" scenarios to see what will then happen to the actors. Mises suggests, for example, that one could

conceive the category of action by constructing the image of a state in which there is no action, either because the individual is fully contented and does not feel any uneasiness or because he does not know any procedure from which an improvement in his well-bring (state of satisfaction) could be expected. (237)

Certainly the first scenario could not create a plot; but the second scenario has created a great deal of literature in the 20th century -- absurdist literature. One may perhaps be able to look at absurdist literature as conceiving of action through the creation of a kind of negative of action dues to the actor's inability to act, know knowing what actions would bring about his/her goal(s). Beckett in particular could be seen as the playwright extraordinare of this kind of lack of action.

Perhaps the best recommendation one could make to an economist, then, is for them to go to the theatre. Or at least the movies.

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