Cambridge Problems

At the turn of the twentieth David Hilbert presented 23 problems to be solved. They were mathematical, and they have shaped the pursuit of mathematics. Here I propose a set of problems for the writers of literature. If only for one writer – that is: myself.


1. The increase of agency in stories. The conjuration within the reader the feeling that they are as the character, faced with the same challenges, granted the same abilities, able to make the same choices, see them through.

2. Tell history as the movement of people just like us. To show not just the feet of clay of kings – for this is the common trend of recent years, such that most people think it the extent of Revisionism – but rather to show how our own feet might be used to ascend the steps to the throne.

3. To show us how we can find, even in the modern world – adventure, Romance, and the righteous. Perhaps in a reactive way, as defending from a threat. Better yet in an offensive way: for windmills are hard to find nowadays, especially when no literature has taught you how to look.

4. Accept the premise of Industrial Society and its Future, that nothing we do is so necessary as what our ancestors did – and in accepting that, to not look with longing at our ancestors, but seek to conjure that same feeling in the unnecessary things to which we may put ourselves. This will either be tragedy (a life wasted in petty certitude), farce (the creation of artificial simulacra of necessity, such as on the gridiron or diamond) – or TRIUMPH; nothing else.

5. Embrace the lapidary. If books can be cheaply and easily acquired dirty paperbacks or digital texts… seek how better to utilize the money and energies which this frees, towards the making of beautiful and sturdy books… and best, books which (in their physicality) augment, or inform, the texts they carry.

6. Create alternative business models which allow authors to earn their keep beyond the sufferance of copyright laws.

7. Determine what position (if any) there is in the world of useful literature for fanfiction, author-instertion fiction, and the “unauthorized sequel” as creative work.

8. Break from the traditional tropes of genre fiction, so that the building of a fantasy-world might be appreciable as more than a subtle variation upon a tired theme.

9. The identification of literature’s utility apart from (at least) hypertextual or otherwise illinear literature, and (in general) narrative in other or mixed media.

10. How we may overcome the dullness of easy success in life.

11. The trouble of progress; the burden of coming utopia.

12. If we are to be no longer peasants: historical actors who are shown to be, not true believers, but self-interested men.

13. If an author might have anything of interest to say, that lives a bourgeois life – or worse: academic.

14. The utility of religion in sweet suburbia.

15. Stories which allow us to wallow in selfishness – that we can avoid such in our lives.

16. Stories which allow us to wallow in hedonism – and teach us how.

17. Towards the better illustration of concepts; best yet, taking disparate philosophies and letting them run and play, to see their conclusions.

18. Literature-as-teacher.

19. That make us look at the world around us as mystery and magic. London Below is well and good but London Above is the battleground of modernity – and fantasy.

20. To daydream of progress – that the line between story and startup be blurred.

21. To give us friends, that we may talk to them.

22. That we may be motivated, by carrot and stick, to do…

23. …and, in a way which captures and caresses, shown how.


~ by davekov on 17 February 2013.

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