19 March 2008

Again, Fiction


We've been around today: here, here, and here. If you haven't been there already, go there and join the discussion about the nature of fiction. The gist of our own comments are as follows:

First, I would say that two of my previous posts took shots at this issue, quoting Stevens and Williams (Poetry Break: Ding-an-Sich) on the one hand and Wm. Gass (Credo) on the other. Pay especial attention to the latter.

The answer to the 'why' of fiction must be multiform. Stories about exploits in hunting, adventuring, exploring, and war grew up with the language. Tales were told. Lessons were learned. They not only informed, but entertained. These traditions are as alive today as ever—and we're still fighting about how much truth counts in non-fiction and fiction. But this merely speaks to the demand-side of the equation (something I've blogged about with respect to the current spat over memoir—see my posts "Cheap Thrills" and "Confess!" at (Autobiography).

Yes, there is a market—a demand—for stories. But there is also a supply-side argument. Persons with the gifts of imagination and gab seek to use those tools to "grasp the world". And, through fictional forms, to perfect that vision.

Fiction lets us stray from the pedestrian and the mundane. It allows us to create and potentially resolve problems and conflicts that we believe "might" arise: pose hypotheticals, if you will. Sure, it's an institutionalized form of lying and its purposes and aims can be small and mean or grand, but fiction is an art form and, as such, its "why" is the same as any other art form's—merely its means are different and, some would argue, more exact and exacting.

Why is there art, you ask. You might as well ask why we lie, why we dream, why we aspire, why we connive, why we cheat, why we plan. The answers may be as many as there are writers—or even more (since there are more stories than writers). Or the answer could be as simple as it's simply what we, as languaged beings, do with our minds.

1 comment:

Mark Thwaite said...

Thanks for your comments over on ReadySteadyBook and on This Space Jim.

I need to say more, of course, and will do (hopefully over the weekend) but my take on this eternal but fascinating subject is that we need to steer a philosophical course between the Scylla of practicality (why is fiction written) and the Charybdis of anthropology (why do humans make art).

Both practical and anthropology arguments can be very reductive here, and my hope in asking "why fiction is" was to open up thinking, to keep questions live rather to jump on answers ...