Friday, June 29, 2012

To fiction

"Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures." Jessamyn West
Let's face it, I don't have much respect for what you might call the life-skill-intellects of most people. I suspect I never had, not really, but that's another matter. Truth is, most people, take the easiest way from A to B, instead of the best one. And if A=Birth and B=Death, then, well...

While unsurprised at the mush-brains of most people, it's something else altogether to find those who've actually done some serious 'optional' thinking—that's thinking about stuff they didn't have to think about for the purpose of staying alive and functioning within the parameters of 'normality', whatever these might be—and still ending up making really dumb statements. Or maybe that's a tad judgmental; let's call them 'insightless' (there's a quickie neologism for you).

Philip Roth, for example, (as quoted here) when asked why he said “I’ve stopped reading fiction,” purportedly replied “I don’t know. I wised up …

Hmmm. No. Wised up he has not. (As—the entirely fictional character—Yoda, might have said.) Wised down he has.

Let's admit though, that at least the first part of the reply was true, for Roth really doesn't know and even less understands, and that's probably because he, like the common ruck of lazy-ass humans, is taking the easiest path from whatever A is to B, which is probably his fictionless reading future. And that easiest way is often marked by statements of supposed importance without the statement-maker having looked carefully at what one s/he talking about.

In this instance that would be 'fiction'.

Since we're word-mongering here, let's take a stab at a definition, and I find that Wikipedia's is as good or better than most, so here it is:

Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical, cinematic or musical work. Fiction contrasts with non-fiction, which deals exclusively with factual (or, at least, assumed factual) events, descriptions, observations, etc. (e.g., biographies, histories).

Good enough for our investigative purpose, but let's look at the definition of its antonym as well:

Non-fiction (or nonfiction) is the form of any narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are understood to be factual. This presentation may be accurate or not—that is, it can give either a true or a false account of the subject in question—however, it is generally assumed that authors of such accounts believe them to be truthful at the time of their composition or, at least, pose them to their audience as historically or empirically true. Note that reporting the beliefs of others in a non-fiction format is not necessarily an endorsement of the ultimate veracity of those beliefs, it is simply saying it is true that people believe them (for such topics as mythology, religion). Non-fiction can also be written about fiction, giving information about these other works.

Note that I don't endorse these two definitions, because when juxtaposed they provide clear contradictions to each other and leave huge logical gaps. But they're just about as good as it gets.

To make what is actually a very complicated relationship simple, let me sum it up like this:

Fiction actually differs from non-fiction in one aspect only, namely that its 'fictionality', if you will, is (usually) intentional, while that of non-fiction isn't. If you deconstruct all the bullshit written about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, that's what it distils down to.

And, yes, by saying that, I'm also saying that basically every "narrative or informative" work ('narrative' and 'informative' being the same thing, but that's another lengthy topic) is fictional to a greater or lesser degree—in the sense that it is, as the Wikipedia entry says, "invented by the author" or authors. Everything that doesn't strictly report utterly unassailable 'facts' without the slightest embellishment, ideally using a language designed purely to represent 'facts', qualifies as having been "invented by the author".

So, what is the difference between 'fiction' and 'non-fiction' then, and what do those who "don't read fiction" actually "not do"?

Next blog, sorry. Train's pulling into the station and I have to get to work.

Friday, June 22, 2012

To fiction or not to fiction

Every now and then I come across an instance of that strange breed who don't read fiction. They may read books, lots of them even; and they may watch an occasional movie ("Oh yeah, I saw Avatar, and that was quite cool, though I don't really go in for that 3D shit."), but if they have disposable book-time they'll never read fiction.

The reason was clearly and lucidly articulated by a work buddy of mine, who, prompted by my question "Why not?", made a complicated compound gesture that was a mixture of shrug, head shake, general arm-twitch and an inarticulate mutter that might have meant something like "I just don't."

Reminded me a bit of what another, similarly disposed buddy of mine (a very intelligent mathematician/physicist) said quite a few years ago: "I just don't see the point." And then there's that silly atheist guru and wonderboy, Richard Dawkins, who told an interviewer that all fiction stories are lies and should be banned, initially from schools, and then people should educated not to promulgate these lies at home. The whole enlightened enterprise would be helped along by removing all fiction for young impressionable minds from libraries (and bookshops, I suppose). Ultimately we would only have 'true' stories, in the sense that anything not considered as 'real' by the likes of RD would have been eliminates from all stories.

Ridley Scott, in his recent flick, 'Prometheus' had something to say about that kind of scenario, and I'm inclined to agree with him 100%. Nobody's damn business what I believe to be 'true' but my own. Only my actions potentially are of any concern to the rest of the world.

Back to the original topic. The reasons given in almost all articles I found on the topic, some of which have a smooth rational air about them (might call it a 'Dawkins Finish'), are bogus. The real reason is a combo of reality-sclerosis (that's what you get when you pay too much attention to what you think is 'real' and therefore significant, but which actually might not be) and a lack of exposure to stories (not just 'literature') during one's formative years. Especially fairy and fantasy tales, which aren't only important but essential for the formation of a balanced human being.

That may sound like a huge generalisation. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But in my experience people who didn't believe on monsters under the bed and fairies in the woods (or something ontologically equivalent, which by the way excludes most religious stuff, because that's something very different!) end up as adults without the capacity for at least considering one impossible possibility at least once a day. They also end up incapable of that magical activity called 'daydreaming', and that is sad indeed, even though they'll never know what they're missing.

They'll also end up 'old', which is probably the saddest thing of all. Losing the capacity to get lost in a story is a sure sign that a lot of other capabilities have also either disappeared or atrophied.