D.G. Myers is pretty sure that plot in fiction displays "how the greatest novelists think." I surely can't agree either that plot is always relevant to how the "greatest novelists" think, nor that it necesssarily has anything to do with how novelists "think," although I would concede that it does sometimes indicate a kind of "thinking" in some fiction, including in much bad fiction. I can't say I follow his reasoning, either:
"Although an ingenious plot is not a logical structure, it serves the same purpose in fiction that argument serves in philosophy—and may even rival philosophical argument in brilliance."
If plot is not a logical structure, how can it serve the same purpose as argument? An argument depends on its logical structure. If plot has no logical structure, how can it be an argument at all, much less a brilliant one?
". . .when it is airtight, the plot succeeds in establishing, I would hold, the validity of the novel’s central theme."
Why is it assumed that every novel has a "central theme"? Don't some novelists work without the assumption of a "theme"? And even if readers deduce such a theme from the plot, how could the latter being validating the former if the writer had no notion there was a theme to validate? Further, don't some novels have more than one theme? How do we decide which one the plot is validating? What if the theme is carried explicitly through dialogue or associated with some other element, such as settting, and the plot merely allows the theme to be developed?
"[The Age of Innocence] is written, as I have argued before now, to verify a “tragic view of marital duty.” The verification is accomplished by the plot, which I now proceed to reduce to a sequence of necessary steps."
How do we know that the novel was written to "verify" this theme? Did Wharton ever herself say such a thing? Nowhere in this or the previous post on Wharton does Myers provide any evidence that she did, or that, absent such warrant, we couldn't find any number of other reasons why the novel "was written," at least according to our own particular reading.
"In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton does not build an intellectual case for the tragedy of marriage. She lays it out—by plots and errors moved."
The Age of Innocence may or may not be about the tragedy of marriage. I could just as easily say it's about the vanity of human wishes or the tyranny of social customs. To the extent it is about the tragedy of marriage, it becomes so because Wharton has adapted the tragic plot, made Newland Archer the tragic hero, etc. I can't see how such a move constitutes "thinking," however. If anything, Wharton is following a centuries-old formula, substituting different circumstances and modern characters. That she might see marriage as potentially tragic strikes me as essentially a platitude.
Which is not to deny that The Age of Innocence is a provocative and worthwhile novel. Wharton adapts the conventions of tragedy in much of her fiction, and does it very effectively. The House of Mirth is among other things a compelling variation on the tragic plot, inserting a woman as the tragic hero. I guess one could construe Wharton's strategy as a form of "thinking," but it's more like simply an experiment with the possibilities of tragedy in the modern age, not really an "argument" of the sort Myers finds in The Age of Innocence.
It seems to me that the thinking-through-plot Myers describes is just another way of identifying plots that are more allegorical than others. Sometimes a novel's plot does obviously enough carrry great thematic weight, but just as often it's an excuse for a bad novel to take on the pretense of "saying something." If Myers were to claim that "In some novels the author carefully constructs a plot so as to reveal some unstated truth," it would be hard to argue with him, but to generalize that plot is always the great writer's way of "thinking" seems an overreach, to say the least.