04 February 2008

On the couch

A rich guy decides he wants have some fun, so he decides to go to see a shrink.  He is a habitual liar.  He vows to make up stories about himself while he is on the couch, to create a purely fictional life for the psychoanalyst to see what kind of responses he gets.  His analyst makes good faith interpretations of the man's false statements about himself (as presented) while on the couch.  The question is:  can the doctor arrive at any truth about the man himself?

This little scenario raises interesting questions on the theme we abandoned a few posts back, as well as many others.  For one thing, it is a metaphor for the relationship between the fiction writer and the reader or critic who feels she can infer something about the biography of the writer from the text of his writings.  Some readers feel that they could not possibly like a writer or his works because they do not like the characters he creates, and, by implication, the writer is necessarily like his creations.

This interests me at the aesthetic level because I am a fiction writer.  For inspiration, I draw on my own experiences as a springboard for my fiction ("write what you know").  But I use my imagination and I dramatize my experience; that is, I try to conform my experience to the form and rhetoric of fiction.  I do not believe my writing, then, bears any resemblance to my life nor my characters to me.  Still, when we speak of fiction we often speak of its 'truth'.  What, then, is that truth?  Does something 'true' about me leak out of my fictional characters' responses to their dramatic situations? Do my stories betray something about who I really am?

Should I be worried?

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