Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Truth: Fiction?

Sadly, this term's class in the evolution of story telling is almost over, but here at the stub end of semester an interesting new set of questions are emerging about the paradox of truth in fiction.

It would appear on the one hand that
all story, by nature or stigma of being identifiably"story," whether asserted to be true story or not, is somehow automatically perceived as less perfectly true than pure, narrative-free information. If someone were to tell you that even mathematics is a kind of story about how the universe works, you might either agree or bristle, but you would immediately recognize that the implication is that mathematics does not simply describe the perfect truth of the world as it is.

On the other hand, even the most perfectly fictive stories, making no direct claims for any sort of verifiable truth at all, will be understood as promoting a view of the world that in some sense is either true or false. When the Vatican objects to a fantasy movie for children, we understand that the Church fathers find some insidious message about how the world really is to be objectionable, even dangerous for young children to imbibe.

Moreover, we have been noticing in class that this applies across many cultural and temporal divides, and that audiences wish to know (or to debate amongst themselves in the retelling) what aspects of a story are
meant to be bracketed as the fictional or fantastic aspects, so that the true or, in common student parlance, realistic qualities of the story can be properly evaluated.

Aristotle once suggested that it is better story telling to allow the impossible than to allow the implausible. Is fictive story telling a kind of probabilistic estimation of the truth, even a sort of Bayesian reasoning from givens? Is that what story telling is
for, in the end, to see what would be true if we (could ever) agree on our priors?

1 comment:

  1. I was once standing in a bookstore looking at the new novel from John Berger. A woman asked if I could help her. Sure, I said. This is the fiction section, she pointed out. Does that mean these books are true or not true. It means they're true, I answered.