An Apology for Fiction

“The novel lies, in saying that something happened that did not,” Elizabeth Bowen famously said two-thirds of a century ago. “It must, therefore, contain uncontradictable truth, to warrant the original lie.” This is as good an apology for fiction as I’ve ever come across, although J. V. Cunningham adds some distinctions that complicate things enormously:

Fiction is fiction: its one theme
Is its allegiance to its scheme.
Memoir is memoir: there your heart
Awaits the judgment of your art.
But memoir in fictitious guise
Is telling truth by telling lies.

Maybe lies is not the best word for what fiction does, then. It’s not possible, after all, to tell the truth by telling a lie. Maybe it would be better to say that fiction makes believe something happened that did not. As the philosopher Kendall Walton pointed out in his treatise Mimesis as Make-Believe (1990), this small change would place fiction in the company of children’s games — “playing house and school, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians . . . fantasies built around dolls, teddy bears, and toy trucks.” Fiction would then be seen as merely a sustained and self-consistent game of pretending. Some grown-ups involve themselves in role-playing games; some, in fiction.

0
Shares
Google+ Print

An Apology for Fiction

Must-Reads from Magazine

Partisanship Masquerading as Wisdom

Anger over health care clouds the left's judgment.

Nate Silver spoke for most of the liberal blogosphere when he objected to the mainstream media’s coverage of Senator John McCain’s speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

23
Shares
Google+ Print

A Familiar Paranoia

Donald Trump sees disloyalty even in his closest supporters.

In a performance that would have shocked sensibilities if they weren’t already flogged to the point of numbness, President Trump delivered a nostalgic, campaign-style stem-winder on Monday to a troop of boy scouts. The commander-in-chief meandered between crippling self-pity and gauche triumphalism; he moaned about his treatment by the “fake media,” praised himself for the scale of his Electoral College victory, and pondered aloud whether to dub the nation’s capital a “cesspool” or a “sewer.” Most illuminating in this manic display was an exposition on the virtues of fealty. “We could use some more loyalty; I will tell you that,” the president mused. These days, Trump seems fixated on treachery—among Republicans in Congress, among his Cabinet officials, and among his subordinates in the administration. His obsession may yet prove his undoing.

9
Shares
Google+ Print

Salaita, Out

Sympathy deferred.

I have written before about Steven Salaita. Once a tenured professor of English at Virginia Tech, he resigned from that position on the strength of an offer from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign to serve in the American Indian Studies program. But in the summer of 2014, UIUC rescinded the offer, mainly over of a series of reprehensible Salaita tweets.

2
Shares
Google+ Print

Syria’s Forsaken Rebels

Has Washington given up on Syria?

Last week, I wrote about one of the troublesome byproducts of the Trump-Putin summit in Hamburg: a ceasefire in southwestern Syria that Israel worries will entrench Iranian control of that area bordering the Israeli Golan Heights. The day after my article came out, the Washington Post reported on another troubling decision that President Trump has made vis a vis Syria: Ending a CIA program that had provided arms and training to anti-Assad forces.

7
Shares
Google+ Print

The Democratic Party’s False Centrism

It's a duck.

Democrats are finally digging out of the wreckage the Obama years wrought, and are beginning to acknowledge the woes they visited upon themselves with their box-checking identity liberalism. So, yes, the opposition is moving forward in the Trump area, but toward what? Schizophrenia, apparently.

15
Shares
Google+ Print