Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Necessity of Fiction

While many of these posts have addressed the problem of what and how we communicate through narrative, I have not written very much about fiction, which was one of the themes I explored from a variety of points of view on my previous blog. I was reminded of the communicative value of fiction when I read J. M. Coetzee's review of Norman Mailer's "speculative fiction" about Hitler's youth, The Castle in the Forest. (I had to read this in its on-line version due to "complications" involving the delivery of my subscription; but that, as they say, is another story!) I was particularly taken with the way Coetzee chose to introduce the strategy behind Mailer's effort:

There are limits to what we will ever know for a fact about young Stalin and young Hitler, about their home environment, their education, their early friendships, early influences on them. The leap from the meager factual record to the inner life is a huge one, one that historians and biographers (the biographer conceived of as historian of the individual) are understandably reluctant to take. So if we want to know what went on in those two child souls, we will have to turn to the poet and the kind of truth the poet offers, which is not the same as the historian's.

I find this perspective particularly valuable in a world in which so many significant decisions are being made that strongly impact such "inner lives" but never bother to take them into account, usually on the grounds that such an accounting would make the decision-making task far too complex. This is why we fall back on technology-based strategies that "objectify the subject;" and there are no end of horror stories, some of which I have cited, about how "subjects" suffer under such strategies. Have we lost our taste for fiction in the wake of all the "facts" from Google and Wikipedia that now overwhelm us; or have we just resorted to laziness to retreat from a world that floods us with more information than we can handle? There is no simple answer to this question. Indeed, the question may well go unanswered until some good novelists decide to write about it!

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