Msnowe's Blog

Metaphysical psychobabble

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on January 14, 2010

Every now and then, it’s good to get all ontological.

Being. Word.

Lately, m.snowe has given a lot of thought to time, passage of time, tenses (present, past, future), and what all that might possibly have to do with “realism” in general, and specifically in fiction.

Wood had some interesting things to say about “realism in fiction” in his book of criticism, How Fiction Works. Since quotes are not handy, let’s parse one interpretation of what Wood said about “realistic” fiction: Basically, Wood postulates that fiction doesn’t necessarily have to present a narrative that is absolutely believable in terms of “happening in real life”–it does not have to be entirely or even partially probable. The important part of fiction is whether or not it sheds some truth on the human condition, even if that means Gregor Samsa wakes up as a bug. It’s less about possibility or probability that something that happens to a character can happen to you as you walk down the street–it’s more about the truth of the story and how it is presented–the ability to allow the reader to feel or experience what the character in the book is feeling or experiencing–to be given a window, a transom, a shoot, a ladder. Not to inhabit that character, but get a sense of what something is “like.” For Wood, “Realism”–or whatever you want to call it–is about a mutually identified condition, a commiseration, and in some sense an apotheosis of reader and writer–a shared, elevated thought experience.

Of course, Wood goes on to explain that all the critics who say realism has to be written with strictures that adhere to the idea of real-life situational plausibility are kidding themselves, because there is no way that words on a page can ever be “real” experience. We cannnot hope to read the words of a novel and find them bleed out the margins and into our real-time lives. Thank goodness. (This isn’t Stranger Than Fiction). That doesn’t mean that the experience of reading isn’t a real and powerful thing. Language is always a signifier, and only theologians claim that someone has the ability to use language in order to create reality (“And god said, let there be light”!). But fiction can and does inform our decisions. Even lawyers, those most real and rationally argumentative of people, often rely on “legal fictions” to make cases that are decided and in turn effect the trajectory of people’s lives.

If you stretch Wood’s argument even wider, you can actually expand fiction into real life (as in, what we consider to be “reality” is actually always dilectically becoming fiction). If you define “reality” as real-life experience, the only thing that is real is what you are doing and thinking right now. Of course, we’ve all been “really” living since birth, but once a moment passes, though it was technically, for all intents and purposes “real” — it is no longer. It has passed away, and enters the shady, unreliable, unresurrectable realm of memory. And no memory is completely real. And neither is the future–the future is a fictional promise or hope. So we need fiction to live real life, and it informs and controls us in ways that no other being on earth can claim as fully–consciousness, memory, hope–all these are fiction. And realistically, we could not operate without them.

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